Christie Lewis, Head of the Document Analyst Team, joined TrustID in 2016 after spending two and a half years working for UK Border Force. With a wealth of experience in identity verification, she’s our most senior analyst. In this Q&A, Christie shares her insight, and offers some tips for checking documents and responding to the evolving trends in identity fraud.

What does a typical day look like working at TrustID?

Day to day, I lead the Document Analyst Team. We’re a group of experts who examine a range of identity documents to provide our customers with peace of mind that they are engaging with legitimate persons and documents. While the number can vary dramatically, we uncover fraud attempts every day. The team provides ongoing support, advice and guidance on suspect documents and compliance matters to our clients.

Why is the Document Analyst Team important to TrustID?

TrustID offers a unique verification service which combines technology and human analysis. Technology is a key first step, but the human expertise we provide is crucial to back that technology up. We help to assess documents which the technology can’t validate – either due to image quality or because there’s something suspicious. We apply our years of experience and understanding of compliance to assist our customers with their checks.

As a team, we find thousands of fake documents every year. With extensive exposure, we’re constantly seeing new documents, new fraud attempts and learning what to look out for. This helps us develop a kind of ‘instinct’ for distinguishing fake documents from bad images to give our clients the best possible results.

Do you have any interesting stories to share?

One thing I find fascinating working in identity verification at TrustID is that I can see how the changing landscape is influencing people and their attempts to forge identities. There’s been several instances where we’ve identified recurring fakes and can literally track the journey an individual has taken based on the fake documents they’re using. For example, a few years ago we flagged someone presenting a fake French passport. A year later, we recognised the same person presenting a French ID card. This year, they presented a fake Irish document, and we immediately knew we’d seen their face before. Changes in regulations means EU documents are no longer valid for certain identity verification checks such as Right to Work, so they’ve clearly opted for a new path because the French document is no longer accepted.

How do you keep track of repeat offenders?

We actually have a watch list to help spot recurring offenders which records the document numbers of certain fraud attempts, so we’re alerted if and when they reappear. However, more often than not, we’ll recognise an individual’s photo, or the incorrect look of a document that we have seen multiple times- sparking a deeper analysis into that submission.

How do you help your team stay on top of changes?

We’re all alert to how the evolving landscape or upcoming changes may shape the channels people go down to present fake identities. A lot of it is picked up on the job by constant exposure – as a team we’re always communicating with each other and sharing insights so we can ensure we’re one step ahead of what people are likely to try next.

We also run a comprehensive and continuous training programme including refresher training when there is a guidance update or if a new document is released. For example, we’ve carried out a refresher course for our team on British and Irish documents ahead of the digital Scheme changes.

Has anything surprised you working in identity verification at TrustID compared the Border Force?

Initially, when I started working at TrustID I was shocked at the sheer number of fakes we uncover for our clients. However, there is definitely a difference in quality between those used at the border and those that we see. At the border, the quality of fraudulent documents is generally very high because people know it’s going to be scrutinised heavily. At TrustID, while some documents are good attempts, most fakes have been produced at low cost hoping that they won’t be inspected by trained officials.

What should people checking identify documents look out for?

To be honest, people often look out for the wrong things. There’s a tendency to be suspicious of the unfamiliar so they may question certain documents such as passports from Madagascar or Vatican City- which they have never seen before. However, these are actually much less likely to be forged.

Conversely, the familiarity of certain documents may result in people assuming that they are fine. But in the last few years, we’ve seen that British and Irish passports are amongst the most likely documents to be forged because they’re considered the gold standard. In fact, our data on fake document trends noted in 2021 revealed there has been in a large increase in people falsifying a British nationality.

When there are new guidelines coming into place, I can usually anticipate two things; one – new counterfeits will start appearing as people adapt to changing regulations and attempt new ways to present fake identities. And two – there may be an influx of people copying the older documents before they’re no longer valid. For example, in March, we kept an eye out for a spike in fake Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) before they’re no longer usable for Right to Work and Right to Rent checks.

Do you have any advice in the event of a fake document being presented in person?

Here, you have the advantage of interpreting their body language and reaction to having their documents checked. People can display nervous tendencies or ask lots of questions which may alert you that something might flag up when you subsequently check their documents.

Being faced with a forgery in real life can be intimidating, but it’s important to stay calm. I would always advise scanning or checking the document in a separate room so you’re not doing it in front of the individual and you have the option of either consulting a colleague or asking an identity expert for a second opinion.

What changes do you expect to see in the next year?

From 6th April, the digital Scheme came into the place, and I think this is a positive choice for employers. Covid-19 and the move to home working revealed that remote checking can work successfully and removes some of the challenges of physical identity checking. Plus, at TrustID, we saw no significant drop in ‘fake rates’ when most of our customers were checking remotely. Not everyone is a document expert and people can’t be expected to recognise every sign of fraud, so I think it’s great that employers will have the choice of using technology to help protect themselves.

However, it’s also worth being aware that in our experience, as guidance changes so does the way people try to circumvent the checks. Our team is always learning, and we are ensuring our technology and training continues to evolve so we’re prepared for any changes in regulation and identity fraud in the future.