Identity Theft and Immigration
December 27, 2006, 03:11 AM
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Faye Bowers writes at the Christian Science Monitor:

The latest roundup of illegal immigrants caught working in the US with fraudulent identifications - the largest single such work-site action ever - raises new questions about a link between illegal immigration and the growing problem of identity theft.

Federal raids Tuesday at six meat-processing plants owned by Swift & Co. in six states resulted in the arrests of 1,282 people for immigration violation - with 65 also charged with identify theft or other criminal charges.

What I think was especially interesting about this article is it demonstrated how the practice of illegal immigration provides an important piece of infrastructure for other forms of criminal activity:

They are not part of an organized crime family, they say - just part of a network of established immigrants who help others attain what they`ve achieved. They are, in effect, the go-betweens from those who bring the immigrants and those who make the fake ID papers - a service they say they provide for free.

"A coyote will call and say, `Does your boss need more workers?` or `Can you help get this person some papers?` " says David, whose main job is as a landscaper. "It`s easy. I`ll have a number for a [document] guy and call him. We`ll meet at the major intersection out here, say, in half an hour. I give him $50 or $100, whatever he`s asking, a photo of the person, and a name," he adds. "About 45 minutes later, he`ll call me to come meet him on the same corner with the papers - a Social Security card and a green card."

Now, having the ready availability of fake papers at these kinds of prices is also real handy not only for folks that want to work poorly paid jobs—but also for folks that want to pursue more profitable activities like using fake credit cards. Purchasing an identity for $100 is a bargain for someone planning to defraud the financial system for $2-5000(which is common in credit card fraud).

The CSM article also missed is that immigrants play an extremely important role in the whole practice of credit card fraud. When I worked in this area over 10 years ago, most of the major credit card fraud rings were based in Asia or Africa. It isn`t just illegal immigrants involved in credit card fraud. Investigators working in credit card fraud detection have told me one of their bigger problems was encountering key figures in credit card fraud rings that have legitimate diplomatic passports (the holders of which are immune from arrest).

Despite the existance of extradition treaties, international borders offer a lot of protection to folks engaging in criminal activities. Law enforcement tends to be most focused on violent crime and those criminals that can be apprehended with the least effort. Criminals with the ability to indefinitely stay in another country as a native are a lot more work to investigate and pursue-and thus tend to be more likely to be left alone.

The costs of identity theft, like the other economic effects of mass immigration tends to fall most heavily on those of Americans of most modest means. We need more work to quantify and explain these costs so they are better understood.