If you’re planning to attend Enforcement Expo in New Orleans at the end of October, you might want to add this unique training opportunity to your agenda. The “Detecting Fraudulent Documents” seminar on Nov. 2 is taught by Martin Johnson, a forensic document examiner with the Howard (Md.) County PD. In the 4-hour session (8 a.m. to 12 p.m.), Johnson will provide participants with an overview of general security features employed by the U.S. government to establish the validity of government documents, as well as known methods used to alter or counterfeit those documents commonly presented to officers. Johnson will discuss identity cards, driver’s licenses and social security cards.
LET recently had a preliminary chat with the former fraud investigator about the exclusive training. Here’s a look at what it’s like to be in the business of detecting fake IDs, and dealing with everyone from the “young and the thirsty” to 9/11 terrorists.
LET: What were your responsibilities investigating fraudulent documents?
Johnson: During the last 13 of my 25 years [at] Howard Co. PD, I spent lots of time investigating counterfeits, their use, and the people who make them. And tracing some of them back to their manufacturers and orchestrating the raid, arrest, and seizure of evidence of those people. I would treat it an awful lot like a narcotics investigation, although I was never a narcotics investigator. You find somebody with drugs, [you ask] where did you get them...you squeeze them, they tell you, then you use that person or you use somebody else and you set up a controlled buy of the ID. [You ask], Where did you get the ID? “I don’t know, I found it.” Really, with your picture on it? Fascinating. What are the odds of that?
So we just squeeze people into giving up accurate information. Then we make controlled buys with police department money and use police people, or non-police people under our supervision to make the buys from the vendors of the false documents...you develop enough evidence to get a search and seizure warrant and to be able to arrest the manufacturers.
You get a bunch of guys together—SWAT or non-SWAT, tactical or non-tactical—depending on the situation, because some vendors of counterfeit documents also dabble in weapons and drugs, heroin importation, and all kinds of other things. Break down their doors, take their equipment, arrest them, and work with prosecutors to convict them.
LET: In your experience, what are some of the more common counterfeit documents an officer may be presented with in his or her career?
Johnson: Driver’s licenses, immigration cards, Social Security cards.
LET: Can you recall one of the more unique cases you’ve encountered?
Johnson: They’re all pretty much the same from one to the next. I had one guy, an illegal alien who’s making counterfeit documents for illegal aliens and other criminals, including drivers licenses, immigration cards, and social security guards, who was using a $2 bill as entry tickets for other people who wanted counterfeit documents. Here’s what I mean: I’m the bad guy. You come to me and you want those documents. For whatever reason I decide you’re probably not the police, you’re probably not homeland security investigations, integration, whatever. And I show you the documents; I show you an immigration card and a social security card for $150, which is about the going rate. Now I trust you, because I didn’t get arrested after that happened.
So…I give you ten genuine $2 dollar bills. And I tell you go out and find ten more people who you know are not the police; go out and send them to me for their documents, and I will give you a cut of the money that I make.
It’s not unlike franchising or building a sales force, like Amway—the Amway of counterfeit identity documents. And the big “ticket” to me was that $2 dollar bill that I gave to you that you gave to somebody else.