CBP Officer Michael Shamma answers a London-bound American Airlines passenger’s questions at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in 2017. (CBP photo by Brian Bell)

Biometrics Unmask Criminal in IRS Scam

An extraordinary example of how biometric exit technology is enhancing CBP’s enforcement capabilities happened in April at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. A 38-year-old, Indian national, Dipakkumar Patel, presented an emergency Indian passport to board a flight to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where he was making a connection to India.

While inspecting the passport, the CBP officer at the departure gate didn’t find a U.S. visa and the pages of the passport were blank. There wasn’t a U.S. entry stamp. When questioned, Patel told the officer that he had entered the country illegally through Mexico six years earlier. The officer decided to call CBP’s Passenger Analysis Unit and asked them to run the man’s name through the law enforcement databases to check if he was on a watch list.

A name came back with 22 aliases, and Patel’s name was one of them. But it was a common Indian name and the match wasn’t conclusive. So the officer decided to do a biometric check and called his colleague to come to the jet bridge to take Patel’s fingerprints. Using CBP’s Biometric Exit Mobile device, a handheld, biometric tool, the officer swiped Patel’s passport and took prints of his two index fingers. “All of our systems were queried and within seconds it came back that he was a biometric match,” said Jonathan Cichy, a CBP enforcement officer who works outbound operations at O’Hare Airport.

“He came into the country as a Portuguese national using one identity and was leaving the U.S. as an Indian national using another,” said Cichy. “The Portuguese passport was legally issued to him, but he had obtained it fraudulently.”

And there was more. When Patel’s name was matched to one of the aliases, an alert was sent to CBP’s National Targeting Center, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and Homeland Security Investigations. “Patel was linked to a call center scheme where U.S. citizens had been defrauded out of hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes,” said Cichy. All three authorities requested that CBP detain Patel and stop him from getting on the flight.

Patel was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and was placed in a local holding facility. He remained there until investigators from the DHS Office of Inspector General and HSI arrived to interview him. Patel was arrested on charges of passport fraud and, in May, was indicted by a grand jury in Atlanta, where he was taken to await his trial. In 2012, Patel had entered the U.S. through Atlanta, using the fraudulently obtained Portuguese passport.

In August, Patel pleaded guilty to a slew of crimes. In addition to false use of a passport, he plead guilty to a conspiracy charge for his role in a multimillion-dollar, India-based call center scam that targeted U.S. victims. According to his plea, Patel and his co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to defraud victims throughout the U.S. The victims were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay the money they allegedly owed the government. Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed to provide payment using pre-paid credit cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the U.S. to liquidate and launder the fraudulently-obtained funds. Patel served as a runner.

“Without the use of biometrics, Patel would have been allowed to depart the U.S. and return to his home country. He would not have been linked to any of the fraud that he committed against the U.S. and our citizens,” said Cichy. “Biometrics are a critical tool in law enforcement. They reveal a person’s true identity and help us protect America.”

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Marcy Mason is a writer and editor in the Communication and Outreach Division of the Office of Public Affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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