Passports, green cards, employment authorization cards and social security cards are all important documents that prove residency, travel and work eligibility in the U.S.
But ICE Homeland Security Investigations authorities say these types of documents are at the center of underground fake ID mills operating in local neighborhoods that could lead to a national security threat.
"Unfortunately for some people, if they want to do harm in the U.S., they use fraudulent documents and take it to the next level," says ICE HSI Special Agent in Charge John Torres.
According to several recent indictments, more than a dozen suspects allegedly running two separate rings near the Columbia Heights Metro Station and Hyattsville would use their cell phone to receive customer's information and picture. They would then use computers and printers to make the fake ID's, selling the documents for $100 or more in a matter of minutes.
"Capabilities of those desktop printers is getting more sophisticated, smaller and smaller dots sizes of the ink that's coming out," says Carolyn Bayer-Broring, a forensic document examiner.
Side-by-side, two Virginia drivers licenses look identical. But under a comparison microscope inside a forensic document lab, you can tell the fake from the genuine license.
The lab's magnification equipment shows whether the finite letters on real passport cards are raised. And lighting detection equipment highlights special security features like laminates.
Federal authorities say passports from the September 11th hijackers are a constant reminder of why it's important to prevent ID documents from falling into the wrong hands.
Authorities say since the Sept 11 attacks, they've increased global data sharing and security at critical infrastructures to prevent terrorists from gaining access through the use of fake documents.
Since 2008, immigration and customs enforcement has seized more than 1,100 fake documents worth $4.7 million in D.C. and Baltimore alone, according to Homeland Security Investigations.
If you suspect a fake ID mill, call: 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423).