The United States is a country of immigrants and many have humble beginnings. Today’s Fraud of the Day from The Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at a poor farmer’s son who fled his foreign homeland after being fined for having a second child (note humble beginning). While on the run from Chinese police, the perpetrator learned the art of using fake identifications and bribes to gain illegal entry into the United States (note wrong turn).
After landing in the U.S. illegally (now, there’s a surprise) and failing at numerous business ventures, he joined his younger brother in setting up a highly sophisticated identification document fraud ring in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. The fake ID ring, operated by the brothers for more than 10 years, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from more than 7,000 customers who needed official identification documentation – a ticket to the land of the free and a license to drive, get a job and apply for housing, utility services, credit cards and bank accounts.
The Chinatown scheme, which helped undocumented immigrants obtain Illinois driver’s licenses between 2003 and 2008, was discovered by local authorities in 2005, when Cook County prosecutors and Chicago police were running an undercover sting operation in a Chinatown brothel. One of the women arrested told law enforcement authorities about the ID theft ring (Perhaps she didn’t like the photo on her ID, so she blew the whistle). It wasn’t long before the FBI became involved and discovered thousands of Illinois driver’s licenses and IDs were issued to Social Security account numbers with the 586 prefix, usually assigned to people in American Samoa, Guam, the Philippines and Saipan. Several decades prior to 2000, the state of Illinois issued only several hundred driver’s licenses and IDs to individuals using the 586 prefix. The FBI also found that the ring reached all the way from the South Pacific to New Jersey.
Here’s how it worked: the elder brother gained access to Social Security cards for Chinese nationals who were temporarily working in Saipan, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – a U.S. territory. When workers returned to China after their job was done, the elder brother held on to their Social Security cards which had a 586 prefix. The fraud ring manufactured “identity sets” which were matched to legitimate Social Security cards beginning with the 586 prefix and sold them to Chinese, Korean and Indonesian nationals who were in the U.S. illegally. The documents ranged in price from $1,200 to $3,500 (not a bad profit) and allowed immigrants to obtain legitimate state IDs and driver’s licenses, some without having to take a driving test. The fraud ring paid hundreds of bribes (for as little as $100 each) to at least four Secretary of State office employees to give passing test scores to his customers.
So what happened to the brothers? The elder brother was sentenced to 81 months in prison while his younger brother received a sentence of 61 months. The FBI Investigation also led to charges against four Secretary of State’s office employees who accepted bribes to pass customers (who were often unqualified) on the road test for an Illinois driver’s license, while teaching other customers how to cheat on the state’s written driving test. As for the thousands of customers who paid for the fraudulent identification documents, they were not targeted with criminal charges. (Those same Social Security numbers will end up being used to file for fake tax refunds, unemployment, housing and many other types of government benefit programs.)
Approximately 2,800 drivers have lost their licenses because of the Secretary of State’s efforts to eliminate fraudulent licenses. According to state records, more than 60 of those driver’s licenses revoked were involved in serious problems including drunk driving cases and accidents. Another 1,100 suspicious drivers were asked to re-take the state’s driving test, but almost none did (shocker), and their licenses were also cancelled. The fact remains that thousands of drivers with the 586 Social Security prefix continue to drive, posing a real threat to personal safety. The state of Illinois was unable to prove that the remaining licenses were fraudulent.
So how have procedures changed? Now driver’s license applicants in Illinois have to go through a central location in Springfield, which allows more time for checking the authenticity of the identification documents presented by the applicant. Once approved, licenses are then sent to drivers via the mail instead of getting a license issued on the same day by showing passports and other identification documents at the Secretary of State service counter. With these preventative measures, many unlicensed, undocumented immigrant drivers will be kept from posing a risk to the public.
As for the brothers, they will be wishing they had a “Get out of Jail, Free” card (if they really existed).