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Passport anti-fraud measure comes to UK's smaller communities

Passport anti-fraud measure comes to UK's smaller communities

HOME OFFICE News Release (026/2009) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 18 February 2009

A hi-tech weapon in the fight against passport fraud has arrived at the UK's smaller and island communities.

The secure videolink allowing first time passport applicants to be interviewed by trained staff hundreds of miles away is rolling out to smaller communities and islands in Scotland, England and Wales. It is one of a range of anti-fraud measures introduced by the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) to keep the British passport among the most secure in the world. IPS prevented around 10,000 fraudulent applications last year. The hi-tech link follows the introduction of 68 interview offices set up over the last 18 months to interview first-time adult passport applicants face-to-face in a bid to deter fraudsters.

The new service is operated in partnership with local authorities who provide premises and staff to facilitate the interviews with IPS officials at a central office.

As well as a powerful fraud deterrent, videolink interviews are more convenient for the estimated 4,000 customers from far-flung communities in England, Scotland and Wales who apply for a passport each year.

Home Office Minister for Identity, Meg Hillier, said:

"Face-to-face interviews are a major step forward in stopping fraudsters set on hijacking other people's identities to carry out serious crimes.

"However, most people are law-abiding citizens who just want a passport without fuss. Interviews by videolink will benefit thousands of people living in smaller and island communities while ensuring the British passport remains one of the most secure passports in the world."

Leader of the Dumfries and Galloway Council, Councillor Ivor Hyslop, said:

"This technology will benefit the whole community by offering greater convenience to those needing a passport.

"We are pleased to work in partnership with the Identity and Passport Service to help offer this service while doing our bit to help fight passport fraud."

Investigations have shown that passport fraud - a growing problem worldwide - is often intricately linked with other criminal activity such as benefit fraud, illegal immigration, illegal working, drug trafficking and terrorism.

The interview requirement is one of a range of measures developed by IPS to stop criminals hijacking other people's identities to carry out serious crimes.

Since 2006 IPS has developed a comprehensive set of counter fraud measures including:

* checking biographical information to ensure that the identity claimed on the application form is genuine and alive, and can be linked to the customer through cross checks against a range of public and private sector databases;

* the development of facial recognition systems to check applicant images against a database of images of suspected fraudsters;

* checking applicants against increasingly sophisticated internal watch lists including databases of infant deaths and passports reported lost or stolen;

* strengthening identity authentication processes, and training and support for passport examiners and specialist fraud units; and

* the establishment of a Passport Validation Service which enables government departments and approved private sector organisations to confirm the details of passports presented to them.

More information on passports and applying for a passport is available from the Passport Adviceline, 0300 222 0000, and at http://www.ips.gov.uk.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. In 2007 the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) introduced interviews for first-time passport applicants aged 16 or over as part of the application process to act as a fraud deterrent. The office network was fully operational last summer and the videolink service will be completed in the next few months. Some 300,000 interviews have now been conducted nationwide.

2. Applications can still be made by post in the normal way, but first-time adult customers are contacted at the end of the process of background checks to make an appointment for an interview at an office of their choice. At interviews people are asked basic information about themselves - not deeply private information, but information that can be checked. The point is to prevent fraudsters stealing other people's identity or making fraudulent applications.

3. A survey of people who have attended interviews revealed that 91 per cent believe it helps to protect against identity fraud. Most customers (97 per cent) found the interview experience a positive one.

4. For interviews with regional partners, please contact press offices at the relevant local authority. Video interviews are now available in Wales at Haverfordwest; in Scotland at Stranraer, Lerwick Bowmore, Campbeltown, Lamlash, Lochgilphead, Rothesay, Tobermory, Kirkwall, Balivanich, Barra, Dunoon, Lochinver, Portree, Fort William, Kingussie, Ullapool, Elgin, Tiree, and Lochcarron; and at St Mary's in the Scilly Isles.

5. For more information call the Home Office press office on 0207 035 3535.

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