Promising easy passage across international borders, fake documents allow thousands of people to change their identity..."
Imagine being at the government’s mercy - a government preventing travel if taxes are unpaid, as is the practice in the United States. Conflict-torn nations compelling their citizens to bear arms. Compulsory military service continues as an obligation of citizenship in Israel and South Korea and responding to the threat of Russia’s military, Lithuania reinstated conscription in 2016 with Sweden doing the same in 2017. Apart from military service, an indebted government, like the crisis in Venezuela may abuse economics, causing hyperinflation, driving down national savings. Authoritarian governments, such as Saudi Arabia are trampling on individual women’s freedoms and many try to escape.
With this in mind, it makes sense that crossing a border is more than a holiday. Many years ago at Singapore’s Changi Airport, I watched border officials scrutinising the passports of a suspicious couple boarding a plane. Singapore is a popular transit and destination hub for human trafficking. Knowing this, Singaporean officials, waving an ultraviolet light over their passport pages, asked about the couple’s destination and their purpose for travel. If the BBC documentary Exodus: Our Journey to Europe is any guide, refugees face harrowing conditions that is often a matter of life or death.
Why you might need a second passport
Countries on the verge of political and economic collapse compel many to seek a new life overseas. With a second passport, seeking another life overseas is possible. I’ve canvassed options for moving to New Zealand, detailed residency programs in Spain and detailed citizenship pathways from the Philippines to Cuba.
Certain passports are better than others
Certain passports get preferential treatment. Passport indices frequently place Western nations at the most powerful in the world - a key factor in the desire for ‘premium’ second passports. When I travel, my passport is often waved through with no questions asked, although many African and Middle-eastern migrants presenting ‘weaker’ passports at European borders would face greater impediments and restrictions to international travel. However, the desire for second passports isn’t limited to those with less powerful passports; British citizens who have European residency are scrambling for European passports so that they can stay in Europe post-Brexit.
High quality forged passports are in demand
Which brings us to the fourth, and illegal way of obtaining passports. The allure of a ‘premium’ passport is such that criminals are turning a profit, and desperate migrants are paying elite middlemen for forged documents. Promising easy passage across international borders, fake documents allow thousands of people to change their identity - from francophone Africans posing as EU citizens, Brazilians posing as Portuguese and South Americans posing as continental Spaniards. The Belgian Police and Scotland Yard cite passport fraud as an ongoing problem and undercover journalists have reported middlemen selling high-quality forged British Citizenship test certificates, European Identity Cards and passports for years. The forged passport industry is lucrative and so much of a problem that in 2016 the United States threatened European countries with losing access to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
Aren’t bogus passports illegal?
Yes, using a fake passport is not legal and not worth a look-in. Although fake passports can be bought for a few thousand Euros, much less than six figures required for economic citizenship programs, the unimpeded passage is not guaranteed. The forged passport industry is run by organised crime: they are sold on the black market, some via dark web vendors to willing (and possibly desperate buyers). Unlike the rudimentary scams using stolen and badly doctored passports of the dead, professional backdoor vendors claim they work in cahoots with dodgy immigration officials for a genuine passport.
One online seller claims that their passports bear the standard fraud-proof features like intaglio printing. Australian, Canadian or French passports sell for several thousand Euros, and for additional fees, get drivers licences and an ID card included. Vocativ analysed 13 vendors on the dark charging thousands for passports with a high passport power rank.
Can forgeries be detected?
Border officials might be able to detect fraudulent use of passports searching Interpol's databases. Interpol claims that its database was searched nearly 3 billion times in 2018 alone. However, not all fakes are caught, and true to their word, if middlemen were to profit from fraud, their fakes need to be good. Myself having trained in detecting forged passports, it is hard, though not impossible to get through border controls undetected.
Is it worth it?
Both legally and fraudulently obtained passports offer the chance at a better life. Heavy penalties apply for using fake passports. Passport fraud is a crime, and in the United States, you could be fined $250,000 and face a ten-year prison term. Identity fraud is associated with criminals and terrorists who aim to travel undetected.
No matter how tempting, travelling with a fake passport is just not worth the risk.