The first step is intelligence gathering. Using crime analysis, an agency should research where arrests and crimes involving counterfeit documents have occurred in its jurisdiction. Then, it should contact the local field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Secret Service and the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General to see if they have any intelligence on operations or trends. One of the most under-utilized resources is the cooperation between local and federal law enforcement.
Gathered intelligence should then be taken and used to conduct surveillance on the suspected runners. The surveillance can be conducted by patrol units and detectives. In some instances, it is advantageous to use patrol units because the runners are used to seeing them in the area and those units are less likely to draw attention. Once the runners are identified, officers need to make some purchases using a confidential informant or undercover officer.
When dealing with illegal alien populations, using undercover officers can be somewhat of a problem. For example, in the Hispanic population, the undercover officer would have to speak Spanish.
The problem is, however, that unless the undercover officer learned Spanish from birth, he will have a distinct dialect difference from a native speaker. Also, he will not have the firsthand knowledge of the country or region the runners may be from.
The most successful way to make purchases during an investigation is to use confidential informants. These will be people from the illegal alien community or closely associated to it. This is where the cooperation with ICE is important. As the enforcers of the nation's immigration laws, this agency has more latitude when dealing with foreign nationals. It also may already use established informants who may be able to assist in a joint investigation.
After the informant makes the purchase, the difficult part of the "buy" operation will be following the runner back to the printing location. The runners in most operations will commonly take different routes, sometimes in an overlapping fashion, to ensure they are not being followed by law enforcement. It is imperative to locate the printing location. For the purposes of a search warrant, this is usually where all the equipment, blank documents, etc. are located. If the printing location is not found, the only arrest will be the runners.
Homeland security issues
The distribution and use of counterfeit identification documents is both a local and a national issue. Local law enforcement comes across the use of these documents through everyday activities such as traffic enforcement or at their local motor vehicles office. Federal law enforcement deals with major crimes and criminal organizations. While both have unique problems arising from the document fraud industry, they share the same homeland security concerns.
According to ICE, more than 150 illegal aliens were arrested on, or while attempting to enter, U.S. military installations in 2006. This includes major installations such as Camp Pendleton, California, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. From a terrorism perspective, these people are foreign nationals, and for whatever reason, are engaged in activities on a military base.
In June 2006, a joint investigation revealed 55 illegal aliens working at a secure construction site on the grounds of Washington Dulles International Airport. These individuals gained employment by using counterfeit identification documents. If these individuals had any criminal intent, they had just been given secure access to an airport. The question becomes: What would stop an individual - who obtained a fraudulent Mexican consular card and U.S. driver's license, opened a bank account and obtained a credit card - from going to the airport and boarding an airplane?
Also in 2006, investigators from the Government Accountability Office used counterfeit identification documents to enter the United States from Mexico and Canada at nine inspection points. They did not attempt to sneak into the country. They simply approached Customs and Border Patrol officers and produced counterfeit identification. They relied on the fact that the officers were not trained enough to detect the documents were fake.