Interview – TrustID’s Tony Machin


By Craig Guthrie, deputy editor

Responding to heightened public sensitivities on immigration amid rising entry numbers, the UK government has in recent years introduced laws which increasingly put the onus on private organisations and individuals to check the immigration status of new staff or tenants.

Although HR staff and landlords can hardly be expected to have the secure document know-how of a border guard or forensics document expert, the government has even put in place various fines and punishments if “illegals” slip through the net.

This is where solutions like TrustID’s can step in – the company develops document scanners for use by laypersons.

Designed for speed and simplicity rather than ultra-intricate checks, the company’s machines compare the chips and machine readable zone data within passports, driving licenses, visas and identity cards and also take infrared scans of these documents.

The benefits are potentially priceless for private firms or local authorities – tabloids are keen to jump on any embarrassing incidences of companies or councils inadvertently hiring illegal immigrants.

Its latest success has been a contract win this month which will see it supply Bedford Borough Council with its devices to tackle identity fraud.

Security Document World talked with TrustID CEO Tony Machin to learn about his firm’s motivations and outlook.

How did the concept for TrustID take shape?

There are thousands of identity documents in the market – for example most countries have several versions of their passport - and meanwhile there is a massive gap between government legislation ordering people to check documents but not telling them how to do so. This is where we capture the market.

To be clear, we are not in the counter-terrorism sphere, we don’t identify fraudulent docs that might cost some £20,000 to develop. We are in the market covering simple cases of illegal immigration and fraud – and there are thousands of cases like this in the country today.

An HR administrator at a busy hospital trust may be responsible for 14,000 staff. They do not have time to read multiple manuals on document checking, or keep up to date with the latest security features on, say, a Ugandan passport. Checking documents at this level needs a different solution.

This topic is also in the press all the time, whether about illegal immigration or tighter controls. We saw last week the UK government announcing tighter checks on employers in the construction, cleaning and homecare sectors. The government has brought in checks by landlord, and we are seeing a tightening in the KYC regulations for financial organisations. 

Was it easy to simplify the document checking process for staff that lack the training of, say, border agents?

The software we have developed features a very simple interface. It takes just 45 minutes to train a layman to tell with 95% certainty if a document is false.

Additionally, 97-98% of documents that are being checked are indeed genuine. What the client needs is a fast and effective process that allows relatively untrained staff to say yes with confidence, and the ability to store that process electronically into records that can be checked by the Border Force.

If there are anomalies, we can always provide online support – but this only occurs in a small number of scenarios.

What forgery trends are your clients increasingly coming across?

Photo replacement – and here the chip is proving very important. We find that often a document will look initially very genuine. But the one thing they cannot change is the chip. Photo replacement at a very professional level is becoming quite common – but this immediately becomes clear when the chip is scanned.

This is even better now that the chip is contained within the document. Previously fraudsters would try to deliberately damage it more when it was visible.

But the biggest number of attempts we uncover are good old MRZ fails. It could be the font that is wrong, the length of code. Quite often clearly it is the algorithm, and yet that is all public knowledge.

Interestingly, this is the case because forgers really do not care what happens to the documents once they are sold. These are documents that are circulating on the market for not a lot of money.

Does your solution connect to databases to verify documents?

No, we are quite unique in the market in that we don’t use a document checking database. This is because as a commercial organisation we don’t have access.

Instead, for instance on driving licences we use ABBYY’s optical character recognition technology (OCR) to read and then extract the information. After that our validation is a straight yes or no – there is less complexity and that is why organisations like our systems.

Moving on to passports, clearly these increasingly have chips so we can validate the MRZ, capture the UV features and IR and use the chip – it is usually the chip that gives the game away.

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