DATA processing backlogs at some government birth, deaths and marriages registries have left the door open for fraudsters to assume the identities of dead Australians.
The ability of a person involved in immigration fraud, tax evasion, social security rorts and even terrorism to obtain a legitimate birth certificate by using a dead person’s identity is still possible at these registries.
Sources told The Australian that registries were tight-lipped about revealing cases where identity thieves had taken advantage of antiquated recording systems. But some cases do make it into the public sphere, thanks to the courts. In August a Sydney court heard the case of a couple who trawled graveyards in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT to steal the identities of deceased children.
These names in turn were used to create false Medicare cards, birth certificates, drivers’ licences, bank accounts and credit cards. Forged documentation and identities were sold to criminals, including members of the Lone Wolf bikie gang, so they could apply for passports.
The Registry of Birth, Deaths and Marriages in NSW, which had been embroiled in a contract dispute with software supplier UXC, said data matching of deaths against births was not carried out for some records before 2004.
“Since 2004 the registry began an automated process where death records are crossed-matched with birth records. From that time endorsements have been made against the birth registrations of deceased persons,” a spokeswoman said.
However, a death may not have been matched with birth details where the assumed identity was of a person who was 19 years old or older when they had died before 2004 — and therefore would have been aged 26 or more in 2011, or died in another state.
“Prior to 2004, endorsements were made against birth records if the deceased person was 18 years old or younger,” the registry said.
The fixing of the identity loophole had been delayed by a dispute with developer UXC, whose contract with the NSW Registry was terminated in 2009. The registry said it had received $2.9 million in damages as a result.
A new contract had now been negotiated with Objective Consulting for $11.4m, with the first release of a new registry due in June next year.
Queensland too is yet to digitise its birth, death and marriages records to enable automatic cross-checking between births and deaths data.
“The project is currently in the final stages of contract negotiation with digitisation currently scheduled to run from early 2012 to 2014,” a Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry spokeswoman said.
Queensland’s 2009-10 budget had allocated $20.8m for digitisation of records.
The spokeswoman said when digitised, its operators would be required to complete an electronic search of Queensland death records before releasing a birth certificate.
Software developer John Doolan, who has worked with birth, deaths and marriages registries across the Australian eastern seaboard for more than 20 years, said the enormous backlog in unmatched birth and death records was a headache.
“We are aware of cases of false identities that have been created and stolen,” said Mr Doolan, the chief executive of KE Software, which has different versions of its software operating in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.
“It’s probably fair to say that the birth certificate was relied upon as an identity document before it was identity, document, so a lot of the activity of the registry over the last decade has been about improving its validity.”
A requirement to register two independent sources of a birth, for example both parents and the hospital, and modern software that treats births, death, marriages and name changes as relating to a single identity, were ways to improve a registry’s integrity.
“After September 11, 2011, there was much more emphasis on identity. They (registries) were forced to move in the last decade from an event system to identity services.”
Victoria claims better integration of birth and death records. A spokeswoman for the Victorian registry said in that state, it would be immediately apparent if a person requested a birth certificate for a dead person.
“Yes, our birth and death records are linked,” the spokeswoman said.