NEWS

Puerto Rico to Void More than 5 Million Birth Certificates Attractive to Identity Thieves

By Matthew Harwood

Easy-to-obtain Puerto Rican birth certificates are such a hot commodity among identity thieves that all Puerto Ricans born before July 1 will need to apply for a more secure replacement before they are voided on September 30.

Over the weekend, the Puerto Rican government granted a 3-month extension for invalidating the certificates from July 1 to  to September 30, but the cutoff date for voided documents still applies to those issued on or before June 30, according to The Providence Journal.

Starting Thursday, the island will begin issuing security-enhanced birth certificates. More than 5 million natives of the territory, 1.4 million of whom live inside the continental United States, must now reapply for the new birth certificates under a Puerto Rican law passed in December in collaboration with the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security.

But that move doesn't eliminate an unknown number of fraudulent but valid passports and drivers' licenses acquired using stolen documents and currently circulating throughout the United States. According to the Associated Press:

The law only aims to make it harder to get false documents in the future, but does nothing to target those already in circulation. And a person holding a stolen birth certificate could conceivably apply to receive one of the new ones, which will have special seals and be printed on counterfeit-proof paper — though they would have to present other personal data that they might not have, McClintock said.

According to Allentown, Pennsylvania's The Morning Call, 40 percent of all passport fraud cases start with a stolen Puerto Rican birth certificate. Identity thieves have targeted Puerto Ricans because their names provide the perfect cover for Hispanic illegal immigrants entering the country and are worth as much as $6,000 on the black market. The documents are so valuable that drug addicts trade them for a fix,  the AP reports, while a Puerto Rico-based FBI agent said he worries these documents could be used by terrorists.

But there's another reason why Puerto Rican birth certificates are so sought after: the territory does not have a culture of document protection, which its government admits. "In the past, many common official and unofficial transactions in Puerto Rico unnecessarily required the submission, retention, and storage of birth certificates," a factsheet (.pdf) on the law states. "As a result, hundreds of thousands of original birth certificates were stored without adequate protection, making them easy targets for theft."

"I saw my mom giving out certified copies of my birth certificate for many situations - registering me at school, signing me up for summer camp," Luis Balzac, regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) in New York, told Pennsylvania's Reading Eagle Press. "For a sport like volleyball or baseball, she would provide a true copy of my birth certificate to the coach."

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