The U.S. government does not take passport fraud lightly. The Diplomatic Security (D.S.) Service of the U.S. Department of State’s law enforcement arm investigates passport and visa fraud by coordinating with federal and international law enforcement agencies in over 160 countries around the world.
Since 1916, the Diplomatic Security Service (D.S.S.) and predecessor agencies have investigated passport and visa crimes. Special agents, analysts, and support staff work with other federal and international law enforcement agencies to ensure the integrity of the U.S. passport and visa programs.
U.S. passports are considered a valuable identity document around the world. It can be used to provide proof of citizenship and is recognized by virtually every country in the world. Those who attempt to obtain a U.S. passport illegally or who use stolen or altered passports conceal their illegal activities by changing their identities.
A U.S. visa is equally valuable. The U.S. visa allows foreign citizens to enter the country for a specific purpose, such as work or tourism. Thousands of people, however, illegally obtain U.S. visas each year to smuggle aliens into the country, flee prosecution, traffic drugs, commit terrorist acts and commit other crimes.
How to Obtain a U.S. Passport
A passport can be obtained from the Passport Services Office of the United States Department of State upon a showing of:
- A completed passport application.
- Present proof of United States citizenship.
- Present proof of identity.
- Two passport photos.
- A social security number.
- Passport photos.
What Is a U.S. Passport Card?
In addition to a regular passport, U.S. citizens may also obtain a wallet-sized passport card, which is also considered a travel document. In contrast to a regular passport, a passport card can only be used to re-enter the United States at land border crossings and sea ports of entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
It is a less expensive, smaller, and more convenient alternative to the regular passport for frequent travelers.
In July 2008, the Department of State began issuing passport cards.
What Is a U.S. Visa?
In order to enter the United States, a citizen of a foreign country must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport. If they meet the requirements, certain international travelers may be able to travel to the United States without a visa.
There are two types of visas:
- Immigrant visa: The Immigration and Nationality Act provides individuals who intend to reside permanently in the United States.
- Nonimmigrant visa: For temporary visits to the United States – for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary employment, or study.
Common types of visa fraud include:
- Presenting false documents to apply for a visa;
- Concealing facts that would disqualify one from getting a visa, such as an applicant’s criminal history, such as selling, trafficking, or transferring of otherwise authentic visas; misrepresenting the reasons for seeking a visa; and counterfeiting, creating a forgery, or altering of a visa.
What Are False Statements in the Application and Use of a U.S. Passport?
False statements are made when a passport applicant:
- Knowingly and willfully makes a false statement,
- In a passport application, with
- The intent to induce assurance of a passport.
The applicant does not need to obtain a passport in order to be found guilty. All of these elements must be proven by the government. Suppose the false statement is made in a different name. In that case, the prosecution must also show that (1) the name used on the application is not that of the applicant, and (2) the applicant used a different name for fraudulent purposes.
False U.S. passports: How Are They Used?
The U.S. passport is one of the most valuable travel and identity documents in the world. It allows citizens to freely travel within the United States and into many other countries around the globe. Because of this, obtaining a U.S. passport is highly desirable to terrorists and other criminals.
According to the D.S., obtaining a U.S. passport fraudulently (which is a crime in and of itself) is almost always done to facilitate other crimes such as illegal immigration, contraband smuggling, economic crimes, and terrorism.
Who Typically Commits Passport Fraud?
According to the U.S. Department of State, passport fraud is typically committed by:
- People trying to obtain U.S. citizenship illegally
- Individuals trying to hide or alter their identity
- People committing fraud, and
- People committing other crimes, such as drug trafficking and illegal alien smuggling
What Are the Typical Methods of Passport Fraud?
Passports from the United States are among the most secure travel documents available. Photographs are digitized, and each passport contains a machine-readable chip that contains all the biographical information, including the photograph.
In addition, the U.S. passport contains over 30 different security features. When immigration officers screen U.S. passport holders for entry into the U.S. and many other countries, the passport is electronically scanned to verify that the photo in the passport matches the photo on the chip. It is extremely difficult to use a physically altered U.S. passport with all these features.
Due to this, one of the most common types of passport fraud involves people using the passports of people who look similar to them. These passports might be stolen or borrowed from family members.
Passport fraud also occurs during the application process. Most often, an individual will attempt to obtain a U.S. driver’s license with fake or impostor documents before trying to obtain a passport. The Department of State checks multiple databases for every passport application to detect impostors.
Fraud or forgery may be used to circumvent the requirement that both parents sign application forms for children under 16.
Penalties for Conviction of Passport Fraud
For a basic, first offense of passport fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1542, such as lying on a passport application, you can be fined $250,000 and sentenced to up to ten years in prison.
The penalty increases to up to 20 years in prison if the fraud involves trafficking in narcotics. If international terrorism is involved, the penalty increases to up to 25 years. In the event the incident does not result in a criminal conviction, the perpetrator faces permanent U.S. immigration ineligibility because they falsely claimed citizenship.
The problem of lost and stolen passports is one of the biggest threats to U.S. national security, as terrorists and other criminals can fraudulently use them at any given time. Thus, if you commit passport fraud for any reason, the government is likely to assume you are engaged or intend to engage in serious criminal activity and that you are a danger to the United States. You are likely to be charged with a federal crime and prosecuted. Contact an attorney immediately.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Charged with Making a False Passport Application?
You should retain the services of an attorney if you have been charged with making a false statement in the application or use of a passport. An experienced fraud attorney can fully explain the charges against you and help defend your rights.