During last week’s article, in which I tried to issue a warning about fraudulent passports, I gave some tips on how to identify a fake passport. This week I want to expand on that topic, because many people may be hesitant to contact the government of a country to confirm that their passport is real, especially if the circumstances in which they obtained the passport now seem suspicious to them.
Before I start, however, I should point out that, as is the case with many things in the world, different countries use different levels of technology when they issue their passports. Some developed nations (First World countries) use biometric data in their passports, sometimes in the form of a chip, while other countries, usually poorer nations, only use a photograph and paper. Obviously, this is going to be a factor for immigration officials in the developed nations of the world, because if they allow someone into their country on a non-biometric passport, they are exposing themselves to an increased security risk. On the other hand, a biometric passport is extremely difficult to forge using identity theft, because you cannot pretend to have someone else’s fingerprints or even their DNA.
But such things as fingerprints and DNA are not standard practice at the moment. USA passports include a machine-readable chip that contains the biographical data of the holder. This presents a serious problem to people trying to forge American passports, because if there is no chip in the passport, USA immigration officials will know immediately that the passport is suspicious. There is no way of avoiding this security feature. You could, of course, make the chip yourself, but ask yourself – how many people actually have access to that kind of technology? Secondly, you should always keep in mind that passports are generated off a central government database. This is probably true in ANY country. All passports have serial numbers. So, even if you managed to manufacture your own passport chip, your fake passport still wouldn’t be on the American passport database and you would be in serious trouble if you tried to travel into America on that passport. Don’t try it. You are asking for trouble if you do that.
However, in other countries, there are no chips in the passports, and so the more usual security features are used. Some countries may use hologram printing in their passports (a hologram is a shiny picture that only becomes clear to your eyes when it is viewed from a certain angle, sort of like the watermark in bank notes). The data page at the back of the passport will also typically have what is known as the “machine readable zone” which is a collection of letters and numbers and other symbols that may seem like random nonsense to you but which are extremely important. This is where you need to be very careful – if you suspect that your passport is a forgery, it is probably in the machine-readable zone that there will be obvious system errors or impossible combinations which do not appear anywhere on the passport database of the issuing government. You will not be able to see those errors, but immigration officials probably will.
Once again, DO NOT try to travel on a fraudulent passport. There are probably many things that you do not know about passports and immigration control, because you do not work with them every day. You could end up paying dearly for taking a risk.
In South Africa, passports are issued with some very standard security features. A South African passport resembles the passports of many other countries. South African passports are respected in the world because they are not that easy to get hold of, and they are relatively expensive. It costs ZAR400 to apply for a South African passport.