back to article Awed fraudsters defeated by UK's passport interviews

Interviews for first time passport applicants have been massively successful - because, er, no fraudulent applications at all have been detected since the government introduced the system last May. In answer to a Freedom of Information request, the Home Office said last week that 38,391 interviews had been held to date, 222 …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge


    Why did I read that as: "Hitler said that IPS was then...."?

    There is of course no resemblance at all between the NuLab Home Office and the Nazis. What was I thinking?

  2. Steve

    @ TeeCee

    "There is of course no resemblance at all between the NuLab Home Office and the Nazis."

    Just as well - imagine the trouble we'd be in if they were only *half* as competent as the Nazis.

  3. Elmer Phud

    Waste of time?

    An HM Gov(inc.) spokesperson added

    "Interviews have also been successful in their other role as elephant deterrents.

    No elephants have been discovered rampaging these isles since the interviews started."

    Right, who wants to buy a passport?

  4. Anonymous Coward


    = Irritable Powell Syndrome...

  5. Lloyd

    More hmmmm

    Could it be that the discrepency is due to the government and civil service:

    a) being inept


    b) lying to cover up a system that doesn't work

    Wouldn't be the first time would it?

    Alien because that's what working technology is to the civil service/government.

  6. Pete Silver badge

    It's in everyone's interest

    Let's think about this for a second: issuing someone with a passport enables them to go away and commit crimes somewhere else.

    What possible reason is there for the british govt. (or any other govt, for that matter) to stop people from leaving the country and doing bad things elsewhere. Surely it's much better for this to happen than for the baddies to commit thier heinous crimes in this country?

    Given how crap our police are at actually apprehending criminals and that since someone forgot to build any new jails, we can't imprison people who deserve it anyhow - it's probably for the best to "export" or outsource our criminal system to countries that can do it better. Obviously, you need to actually have british criminals in those countries for this to work - and you can't do that if they don't have passports. While, it's in those target countries' best interests to have effective border controls, to stop the wave of british criminals from entering (fortunately since the UK didn't join the Schengen agreement, other european countries can prevent brits getting in), but this is very different from not issuing passports in the first place.

    I like to think of giving passports to people as a kind of voluntary transportation. Go overseas, commit crimes, get caught (possibly a new experience that adds to the whole novelty), do you bird and don't be a burden on the british taxpayer. Maybe we should issue passports automatically to people as soon as they come out of prison?

  7. Vic

    ALL first time applicants?

    Are they going to interview my youngest daughter? Are they? Are they? Someone please tell me it's so. She will absolutely love to give absolute strangers a piece of her mind. Whether or not it will be useful to them, I'm unsure.

  8. Tony

    @ elreg - Missing the point

    Clearly you are missing the point; if we can get all of the terrorists to apply for a passport, then we will have their details on record. Once they do something very naughty, then we will be able to locate them really quickly with the secret RFID tag hidden in their passport, and so we will be able to arrest them toute suite. Simple!

    And for all those that don't realise, irony does not mean something made of iron!

  9. Christoph

    @ TeeCee

    In NuLabour Britain, timetable changes to match train!

  10. Richard
    Gates Halo

    Interview technique

    Why do I have the following scenario in my mind which explains the zero fraud detection figure? -

    Interviewer: Are you making a fraudulent application?

    Interviewee: Me? No! Never!

    Interviewer: ok then, you must be genuine. Thats another one for the accepted pile.

    or am I just cynical???

    BG cos everyone's an angel and can do no wrong in this country

  11. Andy S

    I am curious...

    as to what an interview will tell them. What sort of questions are they going to be asking?

    You put your name down here as mr x, is that correct?

    No, i was lying! My name's really Osama and I'm a terrorist.

    I have never had a passport and will need one soon, however i am going to be as obnoxious as possible to them if they expect me to travel for an hour on a train, then get a taxi to one of their passport centres for an interview, just to confirm everything i've written on the application form.

  12. Adam

    The interviews are weak anyway

    My other half went for one of these interviews - it was his first passport application and the interview lasted all of 15 minutes and went something like this:

    Them: Are you really who you say you are?

    Him: Yes

    Them: Really, really? Honest, promise?

    Him: Yes. Really.

    Them: Have you got a note from your doctor/MP/someone else saying the same?

    Him: Yes, here.

    Them: Thanks, here's your passport, bye now.

    That's the REAL reason there's not been a fraudulent application detected, the process is so weak that all the fraudsters* are walking through the net.

    * Not my other half. Obviously.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: It's in everyone's interest

    "Let's think about this for a second: issuing someone with a passport enables them to go away and commit crimes somewhere else."

    Or think some more and you'll see that once in possession of a British passport they bring in the rest of their extended family to expand their criminal empire and commit more crime in the UK.

  14. Andrew Watson

    Interview network set up under false pretences

    The whole pretext for setting up the interview network is a sham. This was never about detecting passport fraud. All the interview centres have been designed for future conversion to fingerprinting centres for ID cards, but by pretending this has something to do with passport fraud, IPS has hidden the expenditure in the passport budget, not the ID card budget.

    One reason why interviews cannot detect frauds is that in many cases IPS only asks questions based on details that the applicant (fraudulent or otherwise) wrote on his or her own application form. The comment thread on a Daily Mail article about the same story provides a typical example:

    "I recently had to attend an interview with my son, who was 16 in January. Because he is a minor I insisted on sitting with him. I had to provide evidence of my identity (driving licence) and then sit in silence while he answered the questions. Because he has no independent means and is not on credit databases or the electoral register, he could only be asked questions based on the application form. First of all he had to spell his name in full (good job he's not dyslexic nor has any other learning disabilities), then he had to give all the details they had on the form, including the name and approximate age of the person who countersigned it (his old headmaster). In essence, all the interview can establish is that the person seen is the person on the photo and is familiar with the contents and progress of the application. It cannot conclusively establish that the person being interviewed is actually who he says he is. The process is fundamentally flawed."

    Enough said.

  15. Steve Renouf

    Re: Re: It's in everyone's interest

    Or think some more and you'll see that someone who currently holds a (enter country of choice) passport, may have problems freely entering and leaving the UK (to partake in their illegal activities) and would therefore benefit greatly from the freedom of movement that a British passort would give them...

  16. Hollerith


    Why is he not obviously your partner? Can we detect heterosexuality from your sig?

    But I agree with your point. I had a neighbour who had to drag herself for an interview and said it was a waste of time; they only wanted to see her guarantor's letter and clearly made no attempt to see if this person was legit.

  17. MGJ

    @ Andrew Watson

    At this stage, it ties the individual to the application. Time consuming and painful if you want to set up dozens of identities. When they tie that identity to an electronic one with a biometric capture, that (in theory) locks the individual to the identity. You can be whoever you can prove yourself to be and can't create another identity later. The technology exists (and is proven) for matches up to 6 million (Singapore IIRC) in a reasonable time period. The passport/ID card then returns to it's traditional role; does the person match the credentials (nowadays with the photo biometric, in the future with some other form).

    Was there a great outcry when photos were added to passports?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lies damn lies and FOIA queries

    Having spent most of my workign life writing database queries to answer silly bloody questions, I'd concur from those figures that the most likely reson for the disparity is that a diferent question was asked each time and interpreted in a different manner by the person fulfilling the FOIA request.

    Unless each question was identical, you can't try and inferr a great deal form the various statistics quoted produced over an 18 month period.

    My typical day used to involve spending more time trying to figure out what the question was rather than how to answer it and I suspect that some poor sod at IPS has the same challenge when journalists ask his bosses FOIA questions.

    How many sites do we have? 200, unless you mean sites owned by other people on which we have equipment then it's 400, sites wholy owned and operated by us 100, sites where we do maintenance on our own and other peoples equipment 700, sites where we are responsible for managing the site irrespective of ownership 300.

    How long is a piece of string? give me some detailed parameters about the bloody string and I'll answer the question properly!

    Anonymous so my boss doesn;t know it's me - not that he wastes company time on t'internet of course ;)

    Difference between fraudulent applciaiton and Element of false declaration ? - as a student I gave my parent's address to banks, DVLA, passport agency (as was) and Inland Revenue despite never living there - trust me an element of false declaration sometimes makes life a lot easier when you move address every 3-6 months.

  19. Dave Bell

    There are other uses for a passport

    For one thing, a UK passport (with a few exceptions) proves your right to take up employment anywhere in the EU.

    I've shown my passport more often at job interviews than at border crossings.

    Some of my American friends will cry out "Papers please", in a very bad German accent, at the slightest hint of having to prove their identity. Some of them get pretty stupid. But, when I took out my first passport, I never thought I would have to use it for a job interview in Scunthorpe.

  20. Steve Foster


    Adam was saying that his other half was obviously not a fraudster,

  21. Kiernan Wagstaff

    @Tony & @Steve Foster

    And here was me thinking Irony was something the wife did with her irony board....

    Mines the one with the razor sharp creases in... damn someone knocked it to the floor and stamped all over it so now it needs more irony...WIFE!!

  22. Nomen Publicus

    Low efficiency

    If you do the maths, each office is doing about two interviews a day. If the interviews really only take 15 minutes as described above then why does it cost almost £100 million a year?

    Sounds like a boondoggle to me

  23. John Ridley

    Tiger repellant

    Remember the joke about the salesman selling tiger repellant?

    "There's not a tiger within 100 miles of here!"

    "See how well it works!"

    Clearly, the interview process is terrorist repellant.

    Or, just as likely, their peril-sensitive sunglasses are terrorist repellants. If you can't see terrorists, then they don't exist.

  24. Graham Bartlett


    You should be able to detect non-breeder tendencies, given the gender of Adam and his partner. ;-)

    And Adam's other half wasn't a fraudster. At least, I've never met the bloke, but I'm in as good a position to vouch for his non-fraudster-ness as the poor dumb sod doing the interviews. To be fair, the interviewers probably know it's a farce too, but it's a farce that pays their wages, so no-one's going to shout too loudly in case the goose stops laying its golden eggs.

  25. Martin Usher

    Typical Clunky Implementation

    If you want a (first) US passport then you have to turn up in person with your application. But at least we do this sort of thing at local places like post offices. Your credentials are checked at this "interview" -- its not really an interview, its just verifying the certificates (birth, naturalization) that you need to get the document -- and the whole mess is mailed off to wherever it gets processed.

    We have to provide ID when we start working at a job. Our ID and proof of ability to work is filed on a I-5 form which is supposed to be produced to the Federal government on demand. Illegals work for contractors; sub-contractors give then deniability. (There's also a decent trade in not that bad forgeries; employers just need to claim that it sort-of-looked-OK.)

    We desperately want to implement a National ID scheme like the UK but can't because of annoying things like Rights and stuff. The alternative is "Real ID" where State IDs such as driver's licenses and other government issued ID has to conform to a standard which -- surprise! -- looks just like your biometric super-card.

    Someone pointed out that this looks like a Beta test for the National ID scheme. Sounds about right. Good luck with it.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Post Offices !

    Post Offices make darn good passport interview locations. It's easy enough to certify your ID papers before your application is approved. It works pretty well here in Oz anyway.* I'm sure it doesn't cost anywhere near 90 odd million quid.

    * Although I did see a guy with a beard sending a heavy parcel to the Middle East once !!

  27. Ssithl Koumori
    Paris Hilton

    @Richard - Interview Process

    Ah, but such a process is already common practice for the US - case in point the I-94 visa waiver forms - a list of yes/no questions which amongst other things ask if you're a terrorist/communist/etc ..

    For some time, it's been tempting to go for the high score and tick the lot!

  28. Steve Kellett

    Typical leaky application....

    Ah yes, yet another "anti-terrorism" measure that achieves nothing towards achieving its stated aim but yet manages to increase the level of stress and hassle in the everyday lives of innocent parties.

    Another example is that of measures that have been introduced in an attempt to prevent "dirty money" moving around the World. A mate out here in Malaysia recently tried to move some money from his bank account here to his account in the UK. That's the account he opened about Thirty years ago when he was still at school and has been active ever since. The bank refused the deposit unless he could show where the money came from. "I work here" he replied, to be told that they needed a certified copy of his passport & work permit to prove that he worked here. "Get one from the British Embassy" they said. Well, we dn't have an Embassy here, we have a High Comission, this being a Commonwealth Country, and they don't certify copies at High Comissions. In a Commonwealth country you can get that done by any Tom Dick or Notary Public.

    Here's hoping fro a 100% record of non-amenability to pecuniary considerations from all those lawyers around the World then.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Just because it seems pointless doesn't mean it is.

    Hang on people, if you think for two minutes, I know novel idea.

    No system of identification is ever perfect, but the point of the interviews is to reduce fraud. A very difficult thing to prove, as how do you prove something isn't happening.

    But interviews are most likely about risk. If Mrs. Blenkinsop arrives with little Jimmy from 27 Acacia Avenue, Guildford, and both are WASPs with plum in the mouth english then the interview will probably be simple, easy and pointless.

    I suspect the process would be somewhat different if you were Mrs. Khan, with little Muhammed from Luton with broken english. I would think you get a risk profile done on you before you turn up, and depending on how far you deviate from that profile on arrival, will depend on the quality of the interview, and its point.

    The interviewers know what to expect, and you would be surprised just how stupid most criminals are, well maybe not, and how difficult it is to maintain a convincing lie. Go on, fill in a form, with lies, put it in a draw for a month, and then try and remember what you wrote. You won't catch out the really good spy types, but you'll catch the vast majority of fraudsters, who just aren't that good.

    Oh and by the way the vast majority of our civil servents are not inept, they just land up working for a group of idiots who we elect, who can't stop meddling with they way things are done, on the premis that their way has to be better.

  30. Andy Worth

    Re:Just because it seems pointless.....

    "Go on, fill in a form, with lies, put it in a draw for a month, and then try and remember what you wrote."

    Or rather if you are fraudulently applying for a passport, take a copy of said form full of lies and upon being called for interview, vigorously swot up on what you had written previously before attending.

    I'm sorry, but it doesn't take a really good spy type to do that, only someone with a very basic level of intelligence. You would certainly expect those people who are applying for false passports on behalf of others to have figured it out by now, or in fact by 5 minutes after the new process was announced.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The point however is...

    "The interviewers know what to expect, and you would be surprised just how stupid most criminals are, well maybe not, and how difficult it is to maintain a convincing lie. Go on, fill in a form, with lies, put it in a draw for a month, and then try and remember what you wrote. You won't catch out the really good spy types, but you'll catch the vast majority of fraudsters, who just aren't that good."

    So why haven't they caught *any* at interview? Not even the stupid ones. If it was worth doing they would have caught some chancer or even had a false positive. No system is that perfect a deterrent or so perfect a filter.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    seriously folks....

    As an infant I was accused by a well reknown child psychologist, of having an IQ in the region of 180. That's NOT a measure of intelligence but an indication that my brain works slightly differently from "the norm". Since then, despite the odd debarkle into "student life" I managed to obtain a fairly good degree in Maths (and statistics, and biology). Yet as I read this article I find myself completely and unfathomably lost. WTF do all those random figures actually mean? Oh yes, silly me - it's obvious... statistically, 100% of all comments by government agencies are complete and utter crap.

    "Anothermouse" because I don't want to bring my other comments into disrepute. Mine's the one with 3 passports in the lining.

  33. Bronek Kozicki
    Thumb Up

    RE: Just because it seems pointless doesn't mean it is.

    I actually agree with this. System devoid of all controls is just an invitation for fraud - as passport system was before introduction of interviews (and vote by mail system still is). Even if controls in place do not expose much fraud taking place, this does not mean the system is not effective to a certain degree. It might need improvement, but all things take time to mature. No system of controls can be 100% effective, but even when far from perfect, they do provide some level of protection and are far better than not having any controls in place at all.

    One annoying thing about British society is this warm, but utterly naiive feeling that "nah, we do not need any kind of controls, no bad ppl would ever live here". Well, maybe that was true few decades ago (although I have never heard of UK being addressed as Utopia), but times changed. And, BTW, all European countries on the continent have some sort of national ID card and govt databases are usualy connected by some sort of national id number. Nobody's complaining and it simply works. And finaly, as to issuing passport to "bad ppl" - it gives unconditional right of entry to country that issued it. I think this should be enough to alert those planning to "export" criminals from the UK.

  34. Lloyd Kinsella

    As if...

    Illegal immigrants are slaughtering themselves at our gates, there are no fraudsters here!

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <no title>

    Post Offices ? What are post offices then ? Oh yeah, I remember, when I was a lad they used to have them, didn't they.

  36. Mark Roome

    Re: Andy Worth

    "very basic level of intelligence" ... that seems a lot like common sense, which most people seem to be lacking (obviously excluding *most* of the El Reg readers).

  37. StooMonster

    This isn't about catching terrorists... is about creating jobs, civil service jobs at that.

    Similar to the regulatory-driven jobs of Part P compliance, HIPs, Health & Safety, Plastic Policemen and any other clipboard-wielding box-tickers their job is pointless and only exists to reduce the unemployment numbers ... and make them grateful to NuLabour, who they might even reward with votes.

    Bureaucracy, the growth industry of Gordon's Britain.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    @Chris W

    "Or think some more and you'll see that once in possession of a British passport they bring in the rest of their extended family to expand their criminal empire and commit more crime in the UK."

    The article is about passport applications, not about immigration; get back to the Daily Mail website!

  39. Anonymous Coward

    @Bronek Kozicki

    It's not the fact we don't want a system with no controls, it's the fact we'd like a system with relevant controls that works, preferably without the usual incredibly high costs, low performance and complete lack of forethought that goes with most government projects.

    However the chances of this, especially if it involves a computer are virtually nil, it's far easier (and by "easier" I mean "involves more money into the minister concerned's pockets") to spunk taxypayers' money over some butchered, badly specified, out of date disaster than it would be to actually do it properly.

  40. Bronek Kozicki

    IT system? what IT system?

    We all know ;) it would take the govs at least 5 years to implement anything resembling IT system to run the interviews. In my previous message I assumed there is no IT system in place and the whole thing is run on unsecured email, CDs sent over Royal Mail, dozen of ad-hoc Access databases and Excel spreadhseets held by duct tape and squadron of secretaries rewriting data by hand (where majority of budget goes to). Otherwise we would have not heard any report on its efficiency until games in 2012. Poor and inefficient as it gets, but still - providing more security than system with no checks at all.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Dave Bell

    "Some of my American friends will cry out "Papers please", in a very bad German accent, at the slightest hint of having to prove their identity."

    Your American friends mustn't have to work for a living - since 1986, all employees in the US are supposed to fill in a I-9 form, to prove that they are authorized to work in the US. The form must be accompanied by documents that establish your identity and your eligibility to work in the US - for the vast majority of employees in the US that's "a drivers license and a birth certificate" (one for identity, one for eligibility), or a passport (identity and eligibility).

  42. Alan Brown
    Black Helicopters

    Fraudulent applications? Terrorism or fraudsters?

    It strikes me that the process is there to achieve 1 thing:

    Gather biometrics to prevent one person assuming multiple identities and gathering a passport collection (more likely a fraudster than a terrorist, there are hundreds of times more of the former) - most likely as a precursor to the infamous Universal ID card.

    It's being sold as an anti-terrorism weapon, but we're all tired of that old schtick - more to the point a birth certificate is NOT valid as ID - for 11 quid I can obtain any one I want to and there is very little currently being done to ensure people are who they say they are, so it's not going to stop an Al Quaeda footsoldier obtaining a single passport.

    If Mr and Mrs Hussain from Peckham are given _any_ grief by the interviewer when they are entitled to a passport, that'd be grounds for legal action on the basis of institutional racism - and a determined fraudster is more likely to turn up in a pinstripe suit carrying a briefcase as that kind of applicant is far less likely to be given a second glance.

    Black Helo, because the photos in ALL my passports (all legitimate) look like I should be on XYZ most-wanted list - a few immigration officials have said so too.

  43. Alex Barwick

    Efficiency Cuts

    Much of our problem is efficiency cuts in the Civil Service, Local Government, MOD etc. Over many years this country's past and present National & Local governments of what ever colour ( though now they have seemed to have the same colour) have made so called efficiency cuts which means reducing the service by redundancy and outsourcing but actually it costs the tax payer & housing tax payer more. They have relied on crap IT systems that cost millions then wonder why we have so many illegal immigrants that can get passports. We are an island for gods sake but because we belong to the EEC (United States of Europe) we now cannot defend our borders.

    We do not have enough customs officers at our point of entry, we do not have enough imigration officers, roll on the day that we have ID cards that follow us from Birth to death DNA samples are taken at birth and we get rid of the stupid Human Rights Act that only profits the minority and not the rights of the majority.

    Sorry about the fore mentioned but needed to get it off my chest.

  44. This post has been deleted by its author

  45. A J Stiles

    @ Graham Bartlett

    You are assuming that "Adam" is male. Given the tendency for Americans to give their daughters what used to be thought of as "boys' names" (Ashley, Hilary, Jamie, Robin, Sydney et al) and the tendency for Britons to copy Americans, this assumption is not necessarily valid.

    I'm just glad I haven't got a son; because he might well be scarred for life if someone gave "his" name to a girl, making him a sissy by default.

  46. dale miller

    Such brilliant cynicism

    For those of you missing the point.

    These days you need a passport or some kind of photo id to open a bank account.

    Open said bank account with a fake id and get a nice overdraft as your credit history is clean.

    take out money and never pay it back or use the account to launder money from other illegal practices....

    I used to work for the people who did the passport service helpline. This was one of the most common reasons people would apply for passports with fake id's.

    Its a big problem thats costing banks and business a lot of money.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I sense something

    In NuLabour Britain Passport interviews you!

    As to false decleration of residence - hell yeah - I spent 5 years moving from one rubbish rented location to another. Life is a whole lot easier when you have an address that you can say you've lived at for *blah* number of years. Of course I finally have my own location that I can say over 3 years too now making life far easier.

    Another thing hmmm where was it, someone interupted me and started talking about harepan photo collection hmmm....O yeah that was it - Freedom a British Passport gives me? I don't feel that much different from an Iranian especially when going to the states or trying to get back into England. I'm just happy I'm Caucasian and CoE.

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