Synthetic ID fraud investigations thwarted by 'information silos'
Privacy restrictions make sharing information between agencies difficult
The lack of information sharing between agencies issuing identification cards is impeding the effort to thwart synthetic identity fraud, one of Toronto's investigators of the crime says.
Toronto Det. Const. Mike Kelly said it's a major hurdle just to make agencies aware of this new type of crime — in which fraudsters obtain driver’s licences, establish credit and open bank accounts under fake names.
But Kelly said another challenge is that bureaucracies and institutions operate at a distance from one another, not sharing information, in "information silos."
“So what you’ll have is somebody is able to create one form of identity with one entity, then take that form of identification and take it as proof of their identity to another place," Kelly said.
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"That other place, because of privacy restrictions and institutional restrictions, isn’t able to go back to the original provider of that form of identification to confirm all the particulars in all the different ways."
Multiple driver's licences
Driver's licences with fake names are a particular problem for law enforcement, and Kelly estimates there are around 200,000 circulating in Ontario.
Although they are ultimately permits to drive a motor vehicle in a jurisdiction, driver's licences have become a "de facto form of identification," Kelly said.
"It’s probably the most common form of identification that people use in everyday life," he said.
They also give fraudsters “unique abilities” when used in conjunction with other fraudulent identification to obtain Canadian passports, register businesses or get large business loans.
Often, the same face will be used for a number of licences, meaning several different identities.
That means trying to track down the real people who use their faces on multiple driver’s licences for synthetic identity fraud can pose huge challenges for police.
One possible police tool is photo comparison technology, a software application that compares the characteristics of a person’s face with the results of other photographs. This can be useful in helping stop the propagation of these driver's licences with the same face but different names.
However, there are ways of beating the technology.
“I am aware of individual ways of doing it, ways of changing one’s appearance,” Kelly said.
"It's not a magic bullet and it certainly doesn't deal with the actual physical driver's licences that have already been created."
There are interprovincial challenges as well. For example, a person could get a driver’s licence with a fake name in B.C and open up an account in Ontario.