Undercover U.S. agents were easily able to obtain three out of seven US passports that they had filed fraudulent applications for, said an official with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
"State's passport issuance process continues to be vulnerable to fraud as the agency issued five of the seven passports GAO attempted to fraudulently obtain," said Greg Kutz, head of a GAO unit that investigates fraud and security vulnerabilities, told a congressional hearing.
In the second test in as many years of flaws in the State Department's passport office, GAO agents applied for seven passports using bogus documents including the documents of a dead man and an application by an 62-year-old accompanied by a Social Security number issued last year.
"While there were multiple indicators of fraud and identity theft in each application, State identified only two as fraudulent and mailed five genuine US passports to undercover GAO mailboxes," Kutz said. Three of the passports eventually fell into the hands of the investigators. Two other applications were detected as bogus and rejected by officials at the passport office, one because the applicant's Social Security number and birth year did not match up and the other because of "discrepancies and indicators of identity theft," Kutz said. One of the two never-issued passports tipped off the passport office to the fact that the applications were part of a GAO test, and the State Department was able to recover two of the passports that had been mailed out before they were delivered.
Although Kutz gave the passport office credit for having tightened up fraud prevention controls since the 2009 sting operation, he said continued "significant vulnerabilities and systemic issues" mean the way the State Department processes passport applications is ripe for fraud.