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How identity theft can hijack an entire nation

by Neal O'Farrell on July 13th, 2010

Imagine a scenario where identity theft had become such a problem for an entire nation, the government of that nation decided to recall all birth certificates ever issued in that country and start all over again.

Might seem farfetched but that’s exactly what Puerto Rico is considering doing, in an effort to stem a massive abuse of birth certificates from that country by identity thieves. The cloned identities of thousands of Puerto Rican citizens have been cropping up all across the United States. According to the U.S. State Department, as much as 40% of all passport fraud in America involves Puerto Rican birth certificates.

According to a report by the Associated Press, birth certificates and other personal and family information – birth certificate, Social Security number, passport, family and relatives, and driver’s license – have always been relatively easy to steal in Puerto Rico, making it easy for gangs to clone complete identities that can fetch as much as $6,000 each on the black market.

And the stolen identities are especially valuable to illegal immigrants because the victims usually have Hispanic surnames.

In an effort to stop the bleeding, the government of Puerto Rico decided to void every single Puerto Rican birth certificate by July 1st of this year, and require all of its 5 million citizens to apply for new and hopefully more secure birth certificate.

But that may still not solve the problem, because even now there may be thousands of real passports, drivers’ licenses and other legal documents already in circulation issued using the stolen original birth certificates.

Lessons learned?

• Do you know where your birth certificate is right now, and are you confident no-one has ever made a copy of it? Even if you don’t use it very often, you should keep your birth certificate in a safe place and check often that it’s still there.

Born Again? Puerto Rico’s Birth Certificate Fiasco

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