Fake IDs, altered passports and printing equipment were among items confiscated during a raid by police.

Isle ‘forgery factories’
profit from ID fraud

Recent probes uncover
four sites with equipment
to make fake cards

Honolulu police and federal investigators are looking into high-tech "forgery factories" that have been manufacturing well-produced fake identification and credit cards in Waikiki and downtown hotel rooms recently, police said.

About four such setups have been discovered in the last several weeks as part of an ongoing investigation, according to Capt. Ed Nishi of the HPD property crimes detail. Although Nishi said the equipment found at each location was similar, the labs appear to be separate operations, with the rooms usually paid for with stolen credit cards.

"What they're doing is manufacturing licenses, credit cards, identifications to defraud various financial institutions and acquire whatever funds they can," said Nishi. "Identity theft and fraud are becoming more and more of a problem nowadays.

"In fact, right now it's more lucrative to commit fraud against a bank than rob it," he said.

Police presented an example yesterday of the forgery equipment they recovered from one such operation in Waikiki last month. The list included a Toshiba laptop computer with the Adobe Photoshop software needed to manipulate images, a scanner, an inkjet printer, a lamination machine, several digital cameras, blank plastic cards to use as templates for driver's licenses and state identification cards, and a high-tech card printer, which allowed forgers to print images and fonts on the blank cards.

White-collar crime detectives said that with such equipment, even security features on Hawaii state driver's licenses are duplicated with ease.

"Holograms are nothing," said Detective Jon Nakashima, of HPD's financial fraud unit. "Just a little technical know-how, and you can create one of these features."

U.S. Secret Service agent Rick Walkinshaw described the forgeries his investigators have seen from these operations as "very, very good."

"Unless you absolutely know what you're looking for, they can pass pretty well," he said.

Displayed among the evidence were nine fake state IDs, 13 state driver's licenses, student identification cards from the University of Hawaii and the University of Michigan, even a gold member Costco club card. Each one had the face of the same male suspect, along with personal information that had been stolen from a number of victims and kept in a plastic file case, which was recovered with the forgery equipment.

Police warn that it is from those documents that ID counterfeiters get their start and can begin the process of stealing someone's identity.

"It begins by a burglary or a theft from a vehicle where the person's purse is stolen," said Nishi. "So, we want the public to be aware, be a little more careful. Both the consumer and the businesses have to be more cautious."

Mail is also being targeted as ways for thieves to get needed personal information. And Nishi warns that police have also caught people forging personal documents needed to get real identification cards using fake information.

"People with laptops in cars are being arrested in parking lots," Nishi said. "They've got templates for birth certificates and everything."

Police are advising people to make use of the Federal Trade Commission's offer to make credit reports available for free in Western states as of Dec. 1 to check on their credit information. They are also advised to check with their financial institutions to monitor their bank account information as well as keep track of their personal identification.

"Make sure you know where your wallet is, your purse," Walkinshaw said. "It's on the public to safeguard their belongings."

Honolulu Police Department

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