The Ugly Truth About Fake and Forged Documents

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The era of the massive boom of artificial intelligence, more sophisticated deepfakes, image manipulation, official record duplication, and general document counterfeiting — all fall to one major threat. While standard specialists worry about AI taking their jobs, criminals use new technology to commit fraud through faking various documents.
The evolving capabilities of AI make them both a blessing and a threat, for example, to legal systems and financial institutions.
The conventional reliance on rules-based fraud detection systems has proven inadequate. However, advancements in identity verification technologies have become crucial to combat the escalating sophistication of document forgery.
In other words, most banks today use the same weapons, automated systems, and AI-powered software to detect document fraud.
So, it’s clear that in this complex landscape, safeguarding against document fraud demands a multifaceted approach that combines technological innovation with stringent security measures. Now, imagine finding yourself in possession of a counterfeit document — how would you respond? We explore the top red flags that potentially shout out that the document could be fake.

How Document Fraud Became a Global Issue

In many national legal frameworks, both forgery and tampering with official documents, including ID cards, passports, or driver's licenses, are deemed the most severe forms of forgery. Most people don’t realize the bigger picture.
Faking documents also facilitates all sorts of illicit activities.
For example, money laundering and terrorism serve as a significant entry point for criminals to defraud, harm, and terrorize the public.
Although counterfeiting rings based in China are often associated with the production of fraudulent documents, the act of forging documents is a widespread occurrence worldwide. In the United States, for instance, individuals engage in healthcare-related document forgery to meet job requirements or obtain prescription drugs they wouldn't otherwise be prescribed.
Regrettably, advancements in technology have made document reproduction more accessible than ever, turning it into a global issue.
What’s even worse is that fake documents are used for far more serious crimes and not just white lies. Organized crime groups use forged or altered documents to traffic individuals from third-world countries, especially women, who are then forced to work in various establishments against their will with false promises of exciting new opportunities in Europe.

Forged and Fake Documents — What’s the Difference?

A fake document is an identity document that hasn't been officially produced or recognized by the government.
Naturally, there are various forms of fake documents depending on their purpose. For instance, a scammer might create an entirely fabricated passport to access certain services, such as renting a car or receiving medical care.
In contrast, forged documents are real documents with alterations. For example, someone can manipulate a photo, change the person’s name, or edit the birth date printed on a driver’s license.
The scammer can also make a document appear like a different government agency issued it. Scammers often use documents that confirm a person's existence to create a completely new identity.

The most popular types of forged and fake documents include:
● Fraudulent passports
● Falsified birth certificates
● Edited account numbers
● Counterfeit driver's licenses
● Forged signatures on invoices and contracts

Identifying illegitimate documents, which are entirely fake and include fabricated names and details, can be an easy task in some cases when key elements like seals, numbers, or other identifiers aren’t there. However, the process becomes more challenging, particularly if the fraudster is highly skilled.

The List of Methods for Faking Documents is Endless

Identity fraud has been around since the start of ID documents. Of course, criminals use numerous tricks and techniques, with manual alteration being one of the most popular methods.
In this process, fraudsters manipulate original documents acquired from legal authorities, which were stolen from their rightful owners. They alter or erase specific elements, such as photos or names. Then, they add counterfeit stamps to passports with visas.
Not just passports, but in some countries, it’s the IDs that get the most attention from criminals. These documents often have fewer security features, like watermarks or stamps, compared to those designed for international travel, making them more susceptible to forgery. Take India's electronic ID card, the Aadhaar, for example — it can be printed on a piece because it primarily relies on a QR code.
Another common technique for faking documents involves pre-made blank templates for specific types of identity documents. With the cost per forged item as low as $10, this quick and affordable process has led to the production of numerous forgeries. On top of that, laws in some countries have created loopholes that allow criminals to use all sorts of forgery methods without legal consequences.
For example, Russia's Criminal Code declares the forgery or production of any official document for use or sale as illegal. Nevertheless, proper prosecution requires proof of the criminal’s intent to use or sell the fake documents. Exploiting this gap, criminals engage in document forgery without having to fear legal responsibilities.

Can You Actually Tell if a Document is Fake?

Authenticating documents is crucial, and while it was once possible to detect alterations with the naked eye or high-powered magnification, technological advancements have made this more challenging.
Some fraudsters use highly advanced technology and invest funds to make the fake documents as legitimate as possible.
Typically, the cost of producing a document is influenced by its technological sophistication, security features, and design complexity. The involvement of multiple contractors, such as designers, paper suppliers, and printing services, increases the overall price. Countries with weaker security measures in their ID documents tend to experience higher rates of forgery, which is indirectly reflected in the issuance cost.

Despite the work criminals put into their forgeries, the human eye can detect key red flags, such as:
● Missing numbers
● Altered text or images
● Unusual formatting
● Mismatched logos and addresses
● Data errors, such as misspelled names

Criminals attempt to create counterfeit documents that mimic the authentic version by replicating the layout, formatting, text, colors, and fonts. This is achieved either by modifying an original document or duplicating it with software to produce a fake version designed to resemble the original closely.

However, simple red flags or training won’t do the trick for businesses that must verify hundreds or even thousands of documents every day. In these cases, banks and other financial institutions integrate automated identity verification systems that help detect deepfakes and altered or forged documents without having to inspect every ID and its security feature manually.

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