08 Aug 20237 min readin ID verification & biometrics

How Do ID Scanners Work and What Are They Good For?

Alex Lewanowicz

Director of Hardware Engineering, Regula

An ID scanner is basically a scanner with OCR software that automates data extraction and data entry. It lets you instantly fetch and process personal information from ID documents submitted by your users and clients.

However, an ID scanner can be a general term for a wider group of solutions, from mobile apps to specialized passport readers and advanced hardware stations. In this article, we’ll have a look at the most common types of these solutions and how they can benefit your business.

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ID scanners: Hardware and software

You can encounter ID scanners almost everywhere: in airports, in hotels, or in the hands of road police officers or bouncers in nightclubs. Remember the last time you visited a bank, say, to open an account? The chances are you didn’t fill in any forms manually, but a bank worker took your ID, scanned it, and your details went right into the system. That’s exactly what ID scanners are for. 

ID scanners are often referred to as document readers or passport readers. In some contexts, the terms can be synonymous, but as a rule, readers have more powerful capabilities. Both scanners and readers leverage an optical character recognition (OCR) engine that is able to capture symbols and feed them into the system. But, unlike ID scanners, passport readers also allow you to authenticate the data: identify the document type; make sure it’s valid; check the data encoded in machine-readable zones, barcodes, and chips; and even examine the security features of IDs under different light sources.

Depending on the context of use and how deeply the documents need to be checked, organizations choose stationary—desktop or embedded—document readers, mobile document readers, or SDKs that allow you to scan and verify an ID via a mobile app. (Explore our guide on choosing the best document readers for your business)

Image scanners with ID document reading capabilities. These devices are most similar to regular flatbed scanners. They allow you to capture and process only visible parts of document pages. This type of device is now considered somewhat obsolete because of its limited examination capabilities and low speed, although it can still be found, for example, in hotels.

Desktop document readers are often used in the day-to-day work of border controls, banks, immigration services, and other institutions where ID is a must. Usually, they look like small scanners that are tailored to processing passports. This type of ID reader is perhaps the most widespread due to its compact size, affordability, speed, and capabilities for advanced authenticity checks.

desktop type of hardware ID scanners

Embedded document readers. These devices serve as a core for automatic border security kiosks, e-gates, and check-in counters. As their main purpose is enabling self-service registrations, they usually offer advanced document verification capabilities along with extra durability.

embedded type of hardware document scanners and readers

Mobile document readers. These portable devices are appreciated by road police, border patrols, and surveillance agencies. Some of these readers have a built-in computer that processes and analyzes the data on the spot, so they can work independently. Others connect to a centralized system and can be used as a part of a larger ecosystem.

mobile id scanner device

Software solutions. The main purpose of these solutions is to enable reliable customer onboarding and verification. As a rule, they aren’t used as a standalone app, but rather as an SDK that helps you capture and export your customers’ data to your systems.

If you’ve ever used mobile banking, or, for example, enrolled in a crypto trading exchange, then you know the drill: before accessing services, you need to prove your identity by scanning your ID, taking a selfie, scanning your bank card, and sometimes passing a liveness check to make sure it’s really you. These capabilities can be provided by an SDK.

an ID scanner that’s built into an app

How ID scanners work and what they can detect

The heart of any ID scanner or reader is basically a camera. The device takes photos of the presented identity documents and then examines them. The main difference between examination with hardware and software-based mobile ID scanners is the shooting conditions. 

Software solutions exploit the capabilities of a user’s device. They also rely on the user’s accuracy at taking photos, which is why they may quite often ask users to retake an image of a document as the previous result had glares or was blurry.

Desktop and embedded passport readers allow you to examine documents in various light sources, such as white, infrared, ultraviolet, and coaxial. Importantly, they provide perfect shooting conditions for that. There is no ambient light or glare, so you can, for example, capture UV luminescence without the intrusion of ambient light. Plus, there’s no need to hold the page with your hands, so it will be shot flat and no parts will be covered with fingers. This gives passport readers the upper hand in document authentication.

From a bird’s eye view, using an ID scanner involves the following steps:

the 3-step process of scanning and verifying an ID with the help of a passport reader

Capturing a document image is an important step. A low-quality image or a photo taken at an angle or with poor lighting can make it difficult to read the information on the document, leading to errors. It can also make it harder to spot any signs of forgery, such as alterations of the text. In many cases, it’s also important to save the images for further audit.

Reading literally means recognizing text symbols within images (e.g., passport scans), translating them into data, and sending that data into one or more systems for further use. This function is used, for example, in hotels. Equipped with a passport reader, a receptionist doesn’t have to enter the guests’ personal data manually, which greatly accelerates the check-in process and improves the customer experience. 

The verification part serves for security and compliance purposes. The idea here is to make sure that the provided ID is authentic and valid. The exact methods used at this stage depend on the actual hardware or software solution, so the checks vary, from checking expiration dates to biometrics.

For example, verification with the Regula Document Reader involves matching the data from the visual inspection zone with data encoded in various security features, such as the machine-readable zone or barcodes. Regula Face SDK can provide additional authenticity checks by comparing portraits of a document holder from different elements: the one in the visual inspection zone with a ghost portrait, and the portrait from the chip.

It’s also important to keep in mind that in order to be able to reliably verify a document, a vendor needs to have an extensive library of document templates to compare the provided documents against references. Otherwise, the ID scanner is only suitable for very basic document verification.

Professional document readers should be able to extract and verify the following data:

  • Document type;

  • All textual and numeric fields, be they typed, printed, or embossed (e.g., name or date of birth);

  • Information from machine-readable zones (MRZs);

  • Information from barcodes and QR codes;

  • Information from electronic chips.

Plus, they perform extended authenticity checks based on images taken in different light sources.

Use cases for ID scanners

Today, using solutions for automated document verification is no longer the prerogative of border controls. Proving the authenticity and legitimacy of IDs is vital for financial organizations, hospitality and aviation industries, online education, insurance, medical institutions, and others. Even within one organization, document readers can find applications for multiple use cases.

Customer onboarding

In many cases, onboarding is a pleasant walk, from a welcome email to completing a few simple steps. But for highly-regulated industries, such as banking, it’s a way more complicated process. The reason is simple: such organizations are required to ask users for their personal information right off the bat. However, the more effort onboarding requires, the higher the chance customers will leave before completing the process.

When professional ID scanners are used, personal data extraction and identity verification take seconds and are no harder than taking a selfie. Such technology is, for instance, employed by Pearson VUE, a global online testing leader that authenticates its clients remotely through selfies and passport verification. Such methods of bringing in new customers are applicable in many industries worldwide.

KYC automation

For many industries, KYC procedures are required by legislation as they are indispensable for preventing fraud. As KYC mainly includes thorough ID authentication, ID scanners enable fast, accurate, and reliable reading of passports. 

A huge plus of leveraging ID scanners for KYC is the capability to automate the process. When delegated to technology, it is less time-consuming and error-prone, and contributes to a greater customer experience.

Check-in automation

As opposed to traditional check-ins, which are often tedious, modern businesses are expected to offer self-service, remote, and contactless alternatives. The measures against the pandemic have only added to this trend. Technologies cope with data extraction and passport verification much faster than people, so using document reading solutions significantly speeds up airplane boarding and hotel check-in processes, among many others.

For instance, Pegasus Airlines has already transformed its check-in process. Now, a passenger can simply open the app, choose a flight, and scan their ID—and that’s it; they’re registered.

Age verification

Gating the access of underaged customers to certain content, services, products, and venues is a crucial procedure for a number of businesses, from selling alcohol in supermarkets to casinos and adult-only events.

Thanks to the OCR engine, ID verification solutions do age checks automatically. Professional passport readers also eliminate risks related to the use of fake documents or original documents borrowed by someone else, since they can conduct a number of cross-checks, including biometrics.

You can add an extra security layer by implementing a solution, such as Regula Face SDK. With it, you’ll be able to automatically identify the age of a person in the photograph/selfie and make sure it’s the presenter of a document is its owner too.

Restricted access management

Some high-security facilities—government offices, courts, embassies, military areas, or prisons—and socially important facilities, such as schools, have to verify every visitor before letting them in. They may also need to keep the ID data to comply with security regulations. A visitor management system that is based on automated ID scanning and verification is easy to deploy and maintain, and it doesn’t leave space for human error.

To sum it up: Why using ID scanners is worth a shot

Automated document reading has a simple and clear value: it reliably fetches personal details and effectively verifies them in a matter of seconds. There are several such solutions that serve as a helping hand for human controllers. There are even solutions, such as those implemented in automated border controls, that can work without a human in the loop. Regardless of the type, they have a number of benefits in common:

  • ID scanners and readers are much faster than manual data entry. It only takes a second or two to process a full document. For a person, it requires much more time, because they need to type in all the information manually without making any mistakes. Encountering unfamiliar foreign names or ones that look similar (e.g., Kira and Kyra) also slows down the work.

  • They are less error-prone. Technology and algorithms perform better when it comes to repetitive, tedious, and high-volume tasks. There’s no chance of misprints, so the data remains clean and consistent throughout the system.

  • Document scanners and readers reduce the workload for frontline personnel. Working with high passenger/customer traffic increases the chances of mistakes and the probability of overlooking suspicious/fake IDs. 

  • ID scanners and document readers provide extra security. Unlike OCR tools, document readers can also verify the extracted data using numerous methods. This effectively safeguards the business without requiring extra effort or extensive training.

  • They make maintaining compliance easier. Proper document readers can read and verify any ID document from any country, streamlining the onboarding process and conducting it in accordance with local regulations.

These are only a few examples of how automated ID data extraction and verification can help your business become more effective and successful. If you’d like to learn more about what type of ID scanners can better serve your goals, or how to build an effective verification pipeline, feel free to consult with the experts from Regula.

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What are the types of ID scanners?

There are hardware and software solutions. The former include desktop, mobile, and embedded ID scanners. Software-based options are applications for online ID scanning and passport scanner APIs.

What is an ID reader used for?

Unlike ID scanners, which simply extract data from identity documents and transmit it to company systems, passport or ID scanners authenticate identity documents and the information in them. Both devices can be found in hotels, airports, banks, casinos, and nightclubs.

What do ID scanners detect?

The readers identify the document type and check the code in machine-readable zones, barcodes, and chips to make sure it’s valid. They can also examine the security features of IDs under different light sources.

How do ID scanners work?

The device captures a photo of the submitted identity document and then examines it. Then it recognizes text symbols within the image and translates them into data to add to the corporate system. The final stage of the process involves conducting authenticity checks to confirm that the documents are legitimate and have not been forged or tampered with.

Can I use my smartphone for online ID scanning?

Yes, you can. Software-based ID scanners can be a part of banking or crypto mobile apps. This enables you to use your smartphone to take a photo of the document to verify your identity when onboarding a new service remotely.

Do ID scanners store data?

No, an ID scanner is only a transmitter/translator that can recognize and extract data from document images. After the data is processed, all the information is sent to the company’s database for storage.

What is the best ID scanner?

When selecting an IDV vendor, it is critical to consider your specific use cases and opt for companies that possess extensive experience, boast prominent clients, and have in-house R&D capabilities. Regula offers a range of solutions, including both hardware and software options, such as mobile ID scanners and a document verification SDK for seamless implementation into online scenarios.

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