BOOMING BUSINESS IN FAKE IDSPhony documents helped fuel terrorists’ plots

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Members of Osama Bin Laden’s terror network have relied upon occasionally crude but largely effective phony documents to ease their way into and around the United States.

Forged passports, phony driver’s licenses, dummy identification cards and other documents have allowed Bin Laden’s operatives to carry out their terror campaign on American soil.

In doing so, they have tapped into a surging trade in document fraud that also counts people smugglers, drug couriers and common thieves among its patrons.

State and federal officials say the growth in fraudulent ID is tied to two relatively recent advances.

One, the Internet, has become a marketplace for cheap phony IDs. The other, the desktop computer, has made it easy to reproduce key documents for the price of graphics software.

“Years ago you had to have a printing press,” said James Hesse, chief intelligence officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s forensic documents lab in Washington. “Today you can walk into a computer store and buy the stuff you need off the shelf.”There are thousands of sites on the Internet that will provide you with phony documents,” said Bill DeVoe, buy fake ids chief fraud investigator for the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has said it does not know how six of the 19 hijackers entered the country, raising the possibility that they stole someone’s identity or used fictitious documents.

No records show how the six men, using the names with which they’ve been identified, entered or left the country in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We can find no record of them, period. That’s not just INS, that’s everywhere,” said INS Commissioner James Ziglar.

The other 13 entered the country legally, some with student visas.

Prosecuting those who sell such documents is not always easy, however, because the sellers often operate from foreign countries, law enforcement officials said.

Last year, the INS caught 1, fake id 694 people with phony or forged passports at the nation’s borders and airports.

In the period that ended in August, the number more than doubled, to 3,693.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, state officials from New York to Virginia are rethinking their procedures for issuing driver’s licenses and photo identification.

The state plans to introduce a computer program in a few weeks that will compare the Social Security number that an applicant submits against Social Security Administration records. Currently, no such check is made.

“That should put a serious dent in the use of fictitious Social Security numbers,” said John Hilliard, DMV’s deputy commissioner for operations.

In New Jersey, state officials have met with the INS to discuss ways to catch people who submit phony immigration documents to get driver’s licenses.

In Virginia, state officials closed loopholes in its photo identification program after learning that five hijackers bought nondriver photo identification cards at DMV branches near Washington in August.

New wrinkles turn up every month.

Ten years ago, best fake id the INS would send out three alerts a month to agents stationed at the nation’s airports and borders, warning them of the latest trends in passport fraud.