The Internet has brought us many great things, but I would argue that easy access to counterfeit documents is not one of them. Over the years we have seen the emergence of websites offering creation of fake documents – you send the name and address you want shown on a bank statement or utility bill, along with the transactions, and they create it for you.
If you have never seen these websites then look at this one: http://www.replaceyourdocs.co.uk/. This site was flagged by The Guardian back in 2012, but I was using it before that in workshops as an example. And let me be clear, this is just one of many out there offering this type of service. I like (not really) this particular one as it apparently delivers good customer service ‘Unlimited modifications and changes until you are satisfied’ - how nice of them!
There is usually an attempt at some sort of disclaimer, often text explaining it is for ‘theatrical, educational or novelty purposes only’, or some sort of variation. They may also try and place the responsibility on the customer to abide by relevant laws and legislation. But isn’t that like giving a sweet to a child and telling them not to eat it?
I obtain my ‘novelty’ document, which just happens to support my ID&V requirements or my last three months pay slips/bank statements to support my loan application. That must be illegal, I hear you say. Well maybe, maybe not. Depending on the jurisdiction there is only the possibility of a breach of fraud legislation.
Let’s take the UK. I doubt if the existence of the website itself is illegal as fraud. However, once the fake document is created then there may well be a Fraud Act 2006 offence; Section 6 ‘Possession etc. of articles for use in frauds’ or Section 7 ‘Making or supplying articles for use in frauds’. Remember ‘article’ includes any program or data held in electronic form. That is assuming you haven’t created the document as a novelty birthday present (OK, hold back on the sarcasm).
I have actually considered buying one of these documents to use in workshops, could that be one of the few ‘educational’ uses? Would you enter your credit card details on such a website? No chance, but I could use a prepaid card to reduce my risk (that’s another story – see ICA Certificate in Money Laundering Risk in New Payment Products and Services).
But how about Section 92 Trade Mark Act 1994: unauthorised use of a registered trade mark? If you view the documents on offer you will see many registered trademarks clearly shown. That’s usually a way to take websites down. A formal complaint to the website hosting company should have the desired effect.
Now it gets even more interesting: the replaceyourdocs example I gave above is a website registered at a P.O. Box in Sweden. The web host is PRQ, which you may not recognise, but it’s the Swedish hosting company set up by the Pirate Bay founder, Gottfrid Svartholm, a hacker who spent three years in prison. On second thoughts a complaint may not get the desired effect!
But come on, let’s not give up - there are plenty of sites out there (not all registered to dubious hosting) and clear evidence that these type of documents are being used in financial crimes. My former law enforcement colleagues are finding them on seized laptops and examples repeatedly come out in workshops.
So all the IP rights holders out there - from HMRC to HSBC, BT to Thames Water - let’s get some complaints in and try to disrupt this scourge.
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