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Falsified identity documentation

How fraudsters target social housing associations

Daniel Sibthorpe, Senior Manager, Forensic Services
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Whether they are used for identity theft, fraud or illegal activities, falsified identity documents can have serious consequences for those deceived by their authenticity. In recent years, the combination of the cost of living and housing crisis has meant that fraudsters are increasingly turning their attention to social housing associations to secure housing for themselves, or sub-let properties to profit from those in need.

Social housing is paramount for providing shelter for vulnerable individuals and families, and the emergence of fraudulent activities poses a significant threat to integrity of the system. Falsified documents serve as the gateway for perpetrators to manipulate a system which was intended to help those genuinely in need, and further intensifies the shortage in affordable housing that UK residents are currently facing.

Modus operandi

The modus operandi of fraudsters exploiting fake identity documents often begins with the creation or procurement of counterfeit personal identification, such as driver’s licenses, passports, or utility bills. These documents are often bought from dark web marketplaces for very low fees (as low as $15 in some cases) and can look very convincing with the appropriate holograms and font-matching. Once obtained, the fraudsters can proceed to apply for social housing, presenting themselves as individuals in genuine need of assistance.

The challenges

Once their applications are approved, fraudsters secure accommodation within social housing properties, often under false pretences or using aliases. In some cases, they may even engage in subletting schemes, illegally renting out the properties to unsuspecting tenants for profit, thereby confounding the financial losses incurred by housing associations.

The consequences of these fraudulent activities extend far beyond mere financial losses. Every instance of fraud perpetrated using fake identity documents represents a missed opportunity to allocate resources to those genuinely in need, intensifying the housing crisis and depriving vulnerable individuals and families of essential support. Moreover, the weakening of trust resulting from such incidents undermines the integrity of social housing systems, potentially deterring legitimate applicants from seeking assistance, due to fears of exploitation or abuse.

Addressing the issue of fraud perpetrated through fake identity documents requires an approach that combines enhanced verification protocols with proactive detection mechanisms. Housing associations must invest in robust identity verification systems capable of detecting counterfeit documents and conducting thorough background checks on applicants. Collaboration and information sharing among housing providers can also play a crucial role in identifying patterns of fraudulent behaviour and implementing preventative measures.

One of the challenges faced by identity verification tools in recent years was that, with passports, they only focused on the MRZ number (the unique number at the bottom of the passport). The result would only yield a response stating whether the number matched a real passport, as opposed to matching the actual individual listed on the document. Since then, tools have been developed to encompass biometric factors of the individual, such as asking the individual to take a video to prove that it is a real person submitting the application. However, with the recent development of artificial intelligence (AI) and deepfakes, this will provide challenge for these tools.

Countering counterfeit documents

Firstly, it is essential to familiarise oneself with the genuine features of these identity documents issued by relevant authorities. This includes understanding the layout, design elements and security features specific to each document type. For example, driver’s licences often feature holographic overlays, UV printing and intricate microprint text, while passports may contain embedded security features, biometric data chips and watermarks. While typically harder to spot the fakes, utility bills commonly include official logos, account number and detailed billing information, specific to the issuing utility company.

When inspecting a document, pay close attention to the quality of the materials and printing. Genuine documents are typically produced using high-quality paper or polymer substrates, with crisp, clear printing and sharp imagery. Conversely, fake documents may exhibit inconsistencies in colour, texture and resolution with blurred text or images, smudged ink, and uneven borders.

One of the most reliable methods for verifying the authenticity of a document is to use specialised tools and equipment designed for document authentication. These may include UV lights, magnifying glasses, and counterfeit detection pens, which can reveal hidden security features such as UV-reactive inks, microprinting and security threads. By subjecting the document to various examination methods, individuals can uncover discrepancies that may indicate forgery or tampering.

In addition to the visual inspection and technological aids, individuals can also verify the legitimacy of a document by cross-referencing the information it contains with external sources. This may involve contacting the issuing authority or utility company to directly confirm the validity of document and verify the accuracy of the information provided.

What can social housing associations do?

For frontline staff and key stakeholders, it is essential that they receive adequate training to raise awareness of the risks posed by fraudsters, and the key indicators to look out for on fraudulent documentation. This training should equip employees with the knowledge and tools necessary to recognise red flags indicative of potential fraud and what actions they should take.

Furthermore, staying informed about emerging trends and techniques used by fraudsters to create counterfeit documents is essential for maintaining vigilance and adapting detection strategies accordingly. This includes keeping up to date with advancements in document security features, as well as familiarising oneself with common indicators of forgery or alteration, such as mismatched fonts, spelling errors, and irregularities in formatting or layout.

Ultimately, combating fraud perpetrated through fake identity documents requires concerted effort from all stakeholders involved in the social housing ecosystem. By implementing stringent verification procedures, fostering collaboration, and prioritising proactive detection and enforcement measures, housing associations can safeguard their resources, protect vulnerable individuals, and preserve the integrity of social housing systems for the benefit of society.

How can we help?

Our Forensic Services team are Accredited Counter Fraud Specialists and are experts in fraud investigations. If you suspect a piece of documentation is fraudulent, contact a member of the team today and we can help identify the validity of the document. We also provide training for all levels of employees to identify the signs to look out for. Please contact Tim Robinson or your usual Crowe contact for more information.

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Tim Robinson
Tim Robinson
Partner, Forensic Services