E-Verify Remains Susceptible to Identity Fraud, Government Report Says

By Edwin Mora | January 25, 2011 | 5:10am EST

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(CNSNews.com) - The federal government’s E-Verify program is supposed to determine whether potential employees are eligible to work in the U.S., but the program is still susceptible to identity fraud because it can mistakenly “verify” those who steal or borrow legitimate documents from others, the Government Accountability Office says.

“Identity fraud remains a challenge in part because employers may not be able to determine if employees are presenting genuine identity and employment eligibility documents that are borrowed or stolen,” the GAO said in a December 2010 report that was released on Jan.18.

As long as the information entered into E-Verify matches Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records, the program will confirm an individual as okay to hire. (E-Verify is operated by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), a DHS component, and SSA.)

In fiscal year 2007, USCIS implemented a photo-matching tool in an effort to deal with E-Verify’s identity fraud problems.

“The photo-matching tool places the burden on employers to determine whether the photograph on the employee’s permanent resident card or employment authorization document [work permit] matches the digitally stored photograph within DHS databases,” explained GAO.

When there is a mismatch, E-Verify rules require that “the employer indicate in the system that the photographs do not match.”

However, GAO pointed out that E-Verify cannot detect when an employer is actually helping an employee skirt the law.

For example, the GAO noted, an unscrupulous employer may provide ineligible workers with legitimate documents – or the employer may ignore photo mismatches.

“ICE officials in Arizona told the GAO that employers have learned that the photo matching tool accepts only two documents—permanent resident cards and employment authorization documents [work permits], which are heavily protected from tampering and counterfeiting. Unscrupulous employees therefore may ask potential employees who would otherwise fail verification to provide other forms of ID – such as a driver’s license – that will not trigger the photo-matching tool.

ICE officials said this has led to an increase in the fraudulent use of other documents, such as driver’s licenses, which are not part of the photo matching tool.

The mistakes go the other way as well. The GAO pointed out that in fiscal year 2009, the E-Verify system mistakenly identified approximately 25,000 potential employees as ineligible to work in the U.S., in part because of name mismatches.

Since foreign-born employees are more likely to have name mismatches, the GAO warns that erroneous verifications "can lead to the appearance of discrimination.”  

To reduce the likelihood of name-related errors for employees with multiple or hyphenated surnames, the GAO recommended that the director of Customs and Immigration Services instruct employees, through naturalization videos, for example -- how to record their names consistently when providing name information to employers, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

GAO also recommended that the director of USCIS develop a way for employees to access their personal information and correct inaccuracies or inconsistent information in DHS databases.

The use of E-Verify is voluntary for most employers, and it is limited to determining the employment eligibility of new hires only. But that may change. According to the GAO report, “USCIS and SSA have taken actions to prepare for possible mandatory implementation of E-Verify for all employers nationwide.”

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