In July 2022, an immigration officer at an Indonesian airport busted a man with a fake Mexican passport. He didn’t look like a Mexican, could only speak Mandarin, and his untidy passport had signs of changes. A forensic examination confirmed the document to be fake. The stamps inside revealed it was his fifth attempt to cross the border. The four previous ones had been successful.
How come counterfeiters still manage to steal past watchful dragons? Is there a way to nullify their efforts? We discuss it in this article.
Border control challenges in 2023
In general, the current challenges are a natural consequence of the events of previous years. Regardless of the reasons, be it the lifting of the pandemic restrictions or increased migration flows due to the geopolitical situation, this means a significantly increased workload for border control points.
Challenge #1: Increased passenger traffic
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports a strong post-COVID recovery trend in air travel demand. As of April 2022, European carriers’ international traffic rose 480% versus the previous year.
The data from IATA is supported by the trends spotted in this European Travel Commission report and the IMG Travel Outlook Survey. Despite the continuous COVID threat and the world economic fluctuations, people are willing to take international trips in 2022. Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal are the hottest destinations for European travelers, while Mexico and Canada are on the top of the list for Americans.
All of the above is evidence that the pre-pandemic travel levels are likely to be surpassed, which will result in unprecedented passenger load. Longer lines at passport control posts create extra pressure on security staff, who still need to check all the boxes with every single passenger. That leads us to the second challenge.
Challenge #2: Sophisticated identity document forgery
We live in the age of electronic documents, but passports are still pretty much made of paper. Even ones that are equipped with polycarbonate bio pages also have covers, as well as a bulk of pages containing information about visas and entry/exit stamps—attached with sewing thread.
Passport issuers are doing their best to turn forgery from hard to impossible. They use dull paper that doesn’t fluoresce, holograms, intricate background patterns in fine lines, etc. However, this fact, along with the increasing availability of high-quality printing and graphic software, forces counterfeiters to opt for more sophisticated means. At some point, it’s become more difficult for an ordinary border control officer to tell the difference between genuine and fake.
Challenge #3: Staff shortages among border officers
The removal of pandemic travel restrictions and the recent immigration surge have highlighted another challenge: chronic border force understaffing. Employees from a number of countries, such as Great Britain, the United States, and Australia, are reporting growing workloads.
Additional hiring would help, yet it isn’t that easy. Even having enough candidates, there can’t be any compromises when it comes to new officer training in order to quickly fill the vacancies and meet the increased demand.
Plus, as the number and сomplexity of optical features on secure documents grows, the need for specialized equipment and knowledge also rises. This, in turn, leads to the constant need to expand the number of forensic experts, along with increasing costs on additional training for border control staff.
How to improve border security: The Central Laboratory concept
To help border services optimize their passport control process, we might need to rethink the conventional approach, which typically requires hiring and allocating numerous forensic experts.
Let’s say a border control officer examines a traveler’s passport. If there are any irregularities, they need to call a senior officer and hand them the document for further examination. What happens next depends on the senior officer's verdict. However, the chances are it’ll require forensics experts to conduct an in-depth inspection in a specially equipped place. Here’s where difficulties may arise if the situation takes place at a small regional checkpoint and the forgery looks convincing.
As an alternative to allocating forensic experts at every border service unit, Regula developed the Regula 8880, a high-resolution photospectral scanner. With its help, a border control officer can scan documents and share images of suspicious ones with the forensic team at the Central Laboratory.
Employ a tech solution to streamline the process
The Regula 8880 is equipped with a 187 MP camera that captures every tiny detail in various light sources at 3401 ppi resolution (for comparison, the standard print quality is 300 ppi). Importantly, the device also logs the parameters of the image capture and the RFID data. This provides a remote forensic expert with sufficient data to decide if a particular document is fake or genuine.
The ability to easily share such data also opens the door to effective collaboration, which is a huge advantage when it comes to complicated cases of forgery. Decisions on such cases can be made by a board of experts, by analogy with medicine.
All this gives border control networks the ability to distribute the knowledge of the top professionals to every checkpoint, regardless of its location and load, without sending them there physically. Cost optimization is an added bonus.
Add new items into a reference system to capitalize on experience
While the Regula’s IRS is always there to help experts find the necessary images of documents with corresponding security features and detailed descriptions, you can also build your own library. The flagship optics built into the 8880 allow you to digitize any documents for further use as reference samples within your network. That will be extremely useful for effectively accumulating, handling, and reusing knowledge.
If a fake document, say, a passport, gets into your hands, you can add it to your database. This way, control officers at every checkpoint will be informed about this type of forgery and have access to the sample. If they happen to come across a similar document from the same source, they will be able to easily recognize and neutralize it. This capability is especially useful for taking into account and monitoring forgery use cases that are specific to the country or region where you operate.
Please note that adding new document templates into a custom database also requires Document Builder, an additional information reference system module.
Fraudsters are constantly seeking weak points to attack. At remote, understaffed, or overcrowded border control posts where officers are having a busy time trying to fulfill all their duties, it’s a matter of national security to ensure equal access to advanced expertise.
With 30 years of forensics experience under our belt, Regula has developed a wide range of hi-tech solutions to meet any authentication challenge. In this article, we covered the Regula 8880, our flagship document verification device, which allows you to build a scalable forensic network with a centralized expertise hub. If you need advice on how to effectively deploy such a solution for your case, we’re here to help.