In July 2005, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado indicted Pedro Castorena-Ibarra of Guadalajara, Mexico, for his involvement in masterminding a criminal organization responsible for the illegal production and distribution of counterfeit identification documents throughout the United States and Mexico.
While this indictment and others like it have landed disastrous blows on major criminal organizations, small to moderate operations are sprawling in small towns throughout the country. What exactly does it take to establish and operate this type of criminal enterprise?
This article will offer unique insight into the document fraud business through the eyes of a former counterfeiter, illustrating how easy this type of business can be established and its potential dangers to law enforcement and homeland security.
E.B., whose initials are used to protect his identity, crossed illegally into the United States from Mexico approximately five years ago. He and a group of about 20 others from the State of Puebla, Mexico, found their way into the United States by climbing over a small barbed wire fence on a Texas ranch. Once in Texas, E.B. quickly sought to buy fake green and Social Security cards. Two days later he had purchased both for $200. What caught E.B.'s attention was the dozen or so others who also were purchasing the same documents. He saw how easy it was to make the documents and how much money there was to be made.
Eight weeks later, he was renting an apartment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and running his own document fraud business, making approximately $3,000 to $5,000 per week. E.B. chose Philadelphia due to its high concentration of illegal aliens.
He operated his business for two years without being arrested and, to the best of his knowledge, ever being investigated by law enforcement. E.B, still an illegal alien, now works in the construction industry in his attempts to become a legal U.S. resident.
Setting up the operation
According to E.B., the average start up cost is between $2,000 and $3,000 for a small operation that will produce anywhere between 200 to 300 cards a month. The documents produced by this type of operation will generally be of low to medium quality. Those who spend between $3,000 and $5,000 can set up an operation that produces hundreds of high quality cards a month.
Upon visiting a local office supply store, E.B. purchased a laptop computer, color laser printer, flat bed scanner, laminating machine and various other miscellaneous materials. The equipment was then set up in a corner of his bedroom.
Special printing paper, such as Teslin and security paper for birth certificates, was purchased from vendors via the Internet. What he couldn't get from the Web he would have shipped in from Mexico. E.B. says if you can't find something in the United States, you can definitely get it from Mexico.
E.B. then had to decide what type of documents to counterfeit. To find this information he asked around the illegal alien community. He learned commonly purchased documents included resident alien cards, Social Security cards, international driver's licenses and Mexican driver's licenses.
E.B. says the reason people counterfeit a Mexican driver's license as opposed to an American one is the majority of police officers do not know what a real Mexican license is supposed to look like. So, when presented with one, officers have no idea if what they are looking at is real or fake.
After deciding what documents to sell, E.B. went to a local counterfeiter who sold him computer files containing the templates of dozens of ID cards, including resident alien cards; Social Security cards; employment authorization cards; birth certificates from various states within the U.S.; Mexican licenses, voter cards and consular ID cards; and instruction sheets so he would know what information to print.