Laws in the UK are encouraging a booming illicit trade in fake documents giving illegal immigrants a means to establish a base in the country, a BBC investigation has found.
The undercover investigation, involving a reporter for BBC Inside Out London, revealed the ease of buying counterfeit passports, national insurance cards and residence permits from illegal dealers, many of which were part of criminal gangs.
The programme showed how the illicit trade in fake ID documents is being driven by UK laws, specifically the new Right to Rent rules, which were introduced in February last year.
This law came into force as an attempt to prevent illegal and undocumented immigrants from renting a property in the UK. It requires landlords to check the immigration status of all potential tenants by reviewing passports, national insurance cards and residence permits. If a landlord is found renting accommodation to an illegal immigrant, they can be sentenced to five years in prison or be fined.
But the BBC found landlords were unwittingly being duped by forged ID documents.
The programme showed an undercover reporter using a secret camera to record meetings with dealers and then purchasing bogus documents. BBC Inside Out London found the criminals were selling fake passports for about £500 and could provide the illicit material within 48 hours after making the purchase.
The undercover reporter then secretly filmed meeting with letting agents and landlords who accepted the fake documents as legitimate and without any queries.
The programme interviewed one man who went by the pseudonym of Akhbar who had previously been a member of a gang that had been involved in the illicit trade.
He told the programme: “In an average week they were selling between six and 10 fake residence permits or passports. In the last few months or so I would say they got even busier.”
According to the BBC, the forgeries looked to be good quality and legitimate at first glance but there were discrepancies under closer inspection.
Reporter Zack Adesina said: “The counterfeit passports I saw and acquired from the ID fraudsters were remarkably convincing at first glance. Professionally bound and sealed, some even feature mock biometric imprints. They are made with good quality materials and they also pass the touch test, feeling like the real thing. But they don’t withstand intense scrutiny. The photos on three appeared too small and the lettering somehow seemed dodgy but then, those selling them know they need not be perfect.”
One counterfeiter interviewed by the programme said: “Don’t try to use them at the airport, where they check thoroughly. You will not be able to con a proper immigration officer but they are good enough to fool landlords.”
A Home Affairs spokesman told the BBC that landlords “were not expected to be experts in spotting forged documents” but David Smith, of Anthony Gold Solicitors, said the programme’s findings were a problem, potentially putting landlords at risk of being on the wrong side of the law and possibly leading to the discrimination of potential tenants.
“[Landlords] do not have the knowledge or skills to do the job properly. I’ve never met a landlord who can tell a valid Liechtenstein passport from a forgery,” he told the BBC.
Earlier this month, a Mauritius woman who lived in West London and who had overstayed her visitor’s visa, was jailed for 11 months after applying for a job using a fake passport. Two fake French passports were found during a raid of her house. The woman admitted she had purchased the bogus documents in order to obtain employment in the UK.