An Internet business that bragged about the "high quality" of the templates it sold to help produce false identity documents has been ordered to halt the sales by a U. S. District Court at the request of the Federal Trade Commission. "False identification templates . . . are used to facilitate fraudulent activity, including identity theft and underage drinking," an FTC complaint filed in U.S. District Court says. "There is no legitimate use for Defendant's templates and programs." The court granted the FTC's request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the illegal sale of the fake ID templates, pending trial. The agency will seek a permanent bar on the illegal activity and recovery of the defendant's illegally-earned income.
"The templates and software sold on this site are there to help people break the law," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "They could be used to facilitate underage drinking, illegal driving, passport fraud, voting fraud, and even identity theft. This is a no-brainer: any business that empowers and encourages people to break the law should and will be shut down."
According to the FTC, identity thieves often use fake IDs to steal someone's identity. They buy goods they have no intention of paying for, run up mountains of debt and destroy the innocent person's credit record. The FTC maintains the nation's central repository of identity theft complaints, and provides a toll-free hotline for victims at 1-877-ID THEFT.
The FTC complaint alleges that Jeremy Martinez of Tarzana, California, doing business as Info World, maintained Web sites, including one located at a site called "newid" that sold 45 days of access to fake ID templates for $29.99. The site contained "high quality" templates for the creation of fake California, Georgia, Florida, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Utah, Wisconsin and New York drivers licenses. It also contained a birth certificate template, programs to generate bar codes - required in some states to authenticate drivers licenses - and a program to falsify Social Security numbers.
The FTC alleges that Martinez was deliberately marketing his site to consumers who were surfing the net to find fake ID documents. Web sites use Meta-tags - hidden words that help search engines identify and index Web site content. Martinez's Meta-tags included "illegal id," "fake id fraud," and "forging documents" according to the FTC complaint.
The agency alleges that selling the fake ID templates violates the FTC Act and that by providing false identification templates to others, Martinez has provided the "means and instrumentalities" for others to break the law. It has asked the court to permanently bar the deceptive practices and to recover the illegally earned money from the defendant.
The Commission vote to file the complaint was 5-0 with Commissioner Orson Swindle concurring in part and dissenting in part. In his statement, Commissioner Swindle said, "I support the unfairness allegation as it relates to underage drinking in Count I of the complaint and the means and instrumentalities deception allegation in Count II. I have strong reservations about Count I's allegation of unfairness in relation to identity theft, however. I believe that the strongest legal basis for reaching this type of activity is the allegation in Count II that the defendant, by providing templates to create false identification documents, provided the means and instrumentalities for the commission of the deceptive act of identity theft. It is therefore not necessary or appropriate to plead in Count I a weaker, more attenuated unfairness theory relating to identity theft."
The complaint was filed in U. S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles on December 5, under seal. The seal was lifted December 8.
This case was filed with the invaluable assistance of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Fraudulent Identification Program. The program identifies fraudulent Internet identification issues and has closed 33 Internet sites and recorded 310 arrests for possession of false identification.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
The FTC has published a free 21-page booklet, Identity Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name. This comprehensive guide includes information on what consumers can do to reduce their risk of ID theft; how consumers can protect their personal information; the steps consumers can take if they do become victims of ID theft; and a directory of government resources available to ID theft victims. The booklet is available by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT or by visiting www.consumer.gov/idtheft
Copies of the complaint and Commissioner Swindle's statement are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at https://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm . The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
Eileen Harrington or James A. Kohm
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3127 or 202-326-2640
(FTC File No. 022 3307)
(Civil Action No.00-12701-CAS)