Canada Is A Haven For Identity Forgers (By Jeremy Loome in The Ottawa Sun)

September 15, 2005: Canada Is A Haven For Identity Forgers (By Jeremy Loome in The Ottawa Sun)

Thursday,September 15, 2005

Is it real or a fake?
Canada is a haven for identity forgers

A delicate balance

The Feds Take Action

Allegations of poor security continue to dog Canada's records keepers … and illegally obtained Canadian passports have been found in the hands of terrorists and international criminals.

You dont actually have to get into Canada to become a Canadian: just steal someones identity.

Police have long argued Canadas poor security surrounding birth and death records makes us a haven for identity forgers. A mail seizure earlier this year demonstrated just how far gone the system is and left no doubt that if you cant cheat your way into Canada, you can still enjoy all the benefits of citizenship.

The types of documents seized reflect the range of travel and identity documents most commonly used for improper travel to Canada, said a report from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Seizures also consist of documents that people need after they enter Canada, for example to support a non-genuine refugee claim, to apply for immigration status or to qualify for social welfare or other benefits.

The toll? More than 4,000 items seized over five years, and that was just from spot checks. The extent of fraudulent or blank supporting documents moving between Canada and other countries shows that almost every aspect of the application process is vulnerable and that fraud is widespread, the report concluded.

Most of the items were blanks used to make new passports, permanent resident cards, and letterheads for fake professional qualifications, along with the now-usual assortment of counterfeit credit and debit cards.

None would be particularly surprising to a typical urban cop in Canada; recently, the Edmonton Police outlined to the Sun how easy it is to obtain a Canadian passport through the process known as tombstoning.

What tombstoners do is they go to libraries or to archives and they pull old obituary records from newspapers. And in the obituary records, people write lots of stuff, especially small-town obits where they tend to put in the whole life story of the person, explained former Economic Crimes Det. Joe Pendleton.

And when you consider that we were kind of a small town back in the 1960s, when somebody died on vacation it was almost always a story on the opposing side of the obit page. And the story always goes into more detail.

Obits also nearly always contain the mothers maiden name under the survived by … section. Still, a graveyard visit is usually required by the fraudster.

They're called tombstoners because the one piece of information that is almost never in the obit is the date of birth. But the date is almost always on the tombstone.

Once the crook has both the maiden name and the date of birth, hell usually make supplementary calls to try to get more information, sometimes even directly to the family.

Sometimes hell even pull a break-and-enter. But hell do it during the funeral because he knows no one is at home, said Pendleton. He goes in and what hell take is things that no one will ever notice is missing. I mean, if youre dead, who's going to notice? He goes in and carefully takes secondary items.

“Now they have more than enough to get a legitimate birth certificate.

Getting a passport requires a guarantor, but good identity thieves just invent a guarantor, since most of the checks are done by phone.

The system only works because for decades most countries didnt register out-of-jurisdiction deaths. Thats true in Canada, where registries between provinces have only recently started sharing such information and dont intend to make the move retroactive meaning that for years, its been possible to obtain the birth certificate of someone from Manitoba who died in Alberta, without the birth site registry ever knowing its real owner is already dead.

Of course, terrorists arent in the habit of skulking around graveyards and committing break-ins during funerals. Thats up to the people from whom they buy the information.

One such forger, Edmontons William Black, was selling passports and identities to criminals all over the world when he was busted in 2001, including a Romanian gangster named Marcel Iordache who is wanted in several nations. Black was eventually convicted and jailed. But when police busted him, the latest in a string of similar convictions, Black possessed more than 1,800 stolen identities. At least nine of his fraudulent passports had been used internationally.

Ahmed Ressam, however, demonstrated it doesnt take much to get into the forger business. The Algerian terrorist, now in prison for 22 years in the U.S. for a plot to blow up L.A. International Airport, made a profitable sideline of identity thefts from people he robbed in Montreal and he continued the trend to change his own identity.

He simply stole blank baptismal certificates from a Catholic parish in Quebec and invented Benni Antoine Noris. That, a forged priests signature and a photograph got him a Canadian passport. When he flew to Afghanistan for training in late 1997 or early 1998, no one noticed. After all, he wasnt officially Ahmed Ressam anymore.

The government has tightened up security procedures surrounding passport applications since the Ressam case and notes that there are fewer than 400 passport applications that need to be checked for irregularities.

But how tight the security is, given the seizure statistics, is anyones guess. Long-time CSIS intelligence officer Dave Harris, now a security consultant, is not optimistic. As expensive as it would be, registries should be cross-referenced retroactively, he says.

I'm dismayed by the approach they are taking, he says. Its a false economy because of the long-term costs of the ramifications and because its bad for security. My only guess as to why they have never fixed it is that politicians are so busy passing profitable loopholes that can benefit them that theres no time or money left for taking care of the basics.

Canadian politicians are experts when it comes to hiding loopholes. One that plays into national security in particular allows them to take kickbacks without having to report them in effect they can hide donations from interest groups completely legally.

Duff Conacher has been trying to get Canadas fundraising rules amended for years. Its bad enough to be beholden to voting blocs without also being beholden to individuals, he notes.

I find it incredible that we are 130 years into Confederation and we still allow secret donations of unlimited amounts of money to federal candidates, says the head of Democracy Watch. At the federal level, if you are not a cabinet minister and you are running as a candidate or even have just declared that youre running for a nomination for MP its perfectly legal to accept any amount without declaring it, as long as you dont spend any of it on the campaign.

Even if police and the Crown found out about such a donation and tried to prosecute the individual for accepting a bribe, there is the loophole that only an elected official can be convicted of accepting inducements. Candidates arent technically elected officials.

And even if they amended that so that the Criminal Code did apply, the code says you have to ask for something in return for the payment. If you just give them the money and theres no discussion of what its for, you cant charge, Conacher notes.

They dont even have to disclose the money as taxable income because its a gift.

The Liberals suggested they were fixing this with an MP ethics code. They said the MP ethics code would make it a requirement to disclose gifts and anything else that could impact impartiality, but a) its only a code, not a law, and therefore cant really be enforced and b) it only impacts MPs, said Conacher.

People running for office or for a nomination, even if theyre the sitting representatives, arent technically MPs during the campaign, which is when this money can be accepted.

Conacher says his organization believes there are multiple Canadian MPs who have secret accounts, although proving it is pretty much impossible.

If they werent, however, Conacher suggests the politicians likely would have fixed the problem. They all know it exists, so I guess we have to ask why they wouldnt fix it if they werent taking advantage of it.

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