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DMV computer system finds fraud has many faces

A computer program used by the state Department of Motor Vehicles has been catching many New York residents applying for multiple identities. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

A man named Chieu Nguyen walked into the College Point state Department of Motor Vehicles office March 27 and applied for a learner’s permit using forged documents purchased in the Bronx, according to a criminal complaint from the Queens district attorney’s office.

An inspector noticed the fake Social Security and green cards presented by Nguyen, and the 33-year-old man from Vietnam was arrested, charged with using forged documents, and eventually handed over to immigration officials, but many more cases in New York state go unnoticed by DMV inspectors.

Instead of relying on humans to spot fakes, the department has rolled out a new computer program that can see past even the most convincing forgeries.

“We’re really impressed with the results we’ve gotten from this,” said Owen McShane, who made a presentation to members of the community and Community Board 7 at a meeting earlier this year.

Thousands of New York residents create multiple identities which they can use to circumvent restrictions of their driving licenses or collect entitlement benefits, like welfare and Social Security, according to McShane.

A year after its inception in February 2010, the system had already caught 150 cases of identity theft, 5,500 people with multiple licenses and one person who was on the terrorist watch list who would have made it back into the country undetected if it were not for the computer algorithm.

The program works by taking measurements of a person’s facial features. When the precise distances between, for example, the corners of the eyes or the size of the ears are complied into one group representing a face, the computer can pick out a fraud — even if that person is incognito.

Currently, each time that a picture is taken for a license, the measurements are taken and screened against the 16 million people in the database. Each day, according to McShane, the system turns up about 400 potential matches that the department narrows down to about five frauds.

In one of the most serious cases, the program caught a former Queens man who was on the terrorist watch returning to the country from Egypt. The man claimed he had a religious objection to being fingerprinted at the border and was let into the country, but could not hide the features of his face when he applied for his third New York license, according to McShane, who related other egregious violations.

In one instance, a man was caught trying to apply for a commercial bus license. After the computer flagged his picture, agents discovered the man had six DWIs on his other identities.

“Not the person you want driving your kids to school in the morning,” McShane said.

In another instance, a taxi driver was caught trying to apply for a new license after his other one had been suspended when he drunkenly chased someone down with his yellow cab and hit them four times.

Other drivers had hundreds of suspensions or racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

In some cases, the program caught people taking advantage of the entitlement systems in New York state and beyond.

Last year officers wanted to arrest a woman who used five different identities to collect more than $500,000 in state and federal benefits over a four-year period — they had to wait until she returned from vacation in the Bahamas to slap cuffs on her.

The program has also been able to catch other foreign nationals who fell through the cracks of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including immigrants who have been deported for violent felonies and re-entered the country under a false name, trying to get a New York license.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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Reader Feedback

Rick from Bellerose says:
So the next step for some of these frauds is to prevent the photographing of their faces because of religious reasons, and they don't want to remove their scarves.
May 10, 2012, 4:28 pm

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