New kit supply law hits UK statute

Richard Stuart-Turner
Monday, April 20, 2015

Individuals looking to source specialist printing equipment in order to produce counterfeit or fraudulent identity documents will soon find it much harder to get away with their actions after a new law comes into force next month.

The Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Act, which received Royal Assent on 27 March and becomes law in England and Wales in May, will make it an offence to supply specialist printing equipment with the knowledge that it will be used for criminal purposes.

The wording of the act states: “A person commits an offence if the person supplies any specialist printing equipment, and in making the supply, the person knows that the equipment will be or is intended to be  used for the purposes of criminal conduct.”

The act covers equipment used in the production of ID cards, passports, banknotes, tickets and other secured documents, such as hologram machines and plastic card and hot foiling equipment. It also applies to consumables such as ultraviolet inks and the holograms themselves. 

Although counterfeiting has been a major security printing issue for many years, ID forgery is still increasing and the quality of output from counterfeiters has also risen.

Richard Caslon, managing director of specialist printing equipment supplier Caslon, in St Albans, Hertfordshire, says: “Most people on the street wouldn’t know the difference between a genuine banknote and a non-genuine one because the techniques that they are using are so sophisticated.”

The investigation and prosecution of criminal activity will be more straightforward under the new legislation and anyone found guilty of breaking the law could be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 10 years.

The move also brings England and Wales in line with Section 1028 of the US Crimes and Criminal Procedure Code, which outlaws similar activity in connection with ID documents, authorisation features and information.

The legislation is not expected to have a major impact on the larger specialist equipment suppliers, many of which are members of the Metropolitan Police anti-counterfeiting group Project Genesius, which has provided guidance to the UK Home Office in drafting the act.

The objective of Project Genesius, which was launched in 2007, was to form a working relationship between law enforcement agencies and the print industry. 

It produced a code of conduct to which specialist printing equipment suppliers can sign up, committing to maintain transaction records, profile their customers and refuse to supply them if their legitimacy is doubted.

Since the project was created, the number of arrests and convictions has significantly increased and there has been a corresponding rise in the number of fake Bank of England  banknotes taken out of circulation.

Rob Nicholls, managing director of Macclesfield plastic card manufacturer Plastic Card Services says: “Project Genesius has made a big difference in restricting the flow of card making and card personalisation equipment to the wrong people. Prior to that it was very easy to get hold of anything you needed, but it is very restricted now, to the benefit of everyone.”

The impact of the new legislation is perhaps most likely to be felt across the secondhand market. People looking to acquire equipment for counterfeiting may now increasingly contact private sellers rather than larger companies, which are more likely to be aware of the law and highly unlikely to take the risk of knowingly supplying equipment for illegal use.

Machinery suppliers, resellers and individuals can help themselves in a number of ways to avoid getting on the wrong side of the law.

“We do credit checks and other relevant checks for any new customer regardless. As long as companies follow logical checks, which is good business practice that any company should follow anyway, it should weed out any potential issue to do with this,” says Nicholls.

He adds that there are a host of signs that can help to spot a potentially dishonest customer. “It tends to be somebody who gives very limited contact information; there’s never any address details, the email is never from a company and contact is always via a mobile.” 

The International Hologram Manufacturers Association (IHMA), the trade body that represents the global hologram industry, has welcomed the new legislation.

IHMA general secretary Ian Lancaster says: “The act will be very welcome and has to be seen as a positive move to support governments and industry in the fight against crime and terrorism at a time when ID document forgery is on the rise.

“This will also benefit brand owners tackling the problem of counterfeiting because they will be reassured that they will be using holograms supplied from bona fide sources as part of brand protection strategies.”

Although counterfeiters will inevitably continue to find ways and means of making money from forged documents and cards, this new legislation should go some way towards helping police and prosecutors to cut them off at the source. 

How to spot suspicious customer behaviour

  • Acts unusually/suspiciously
  • Makes a cash purchase
  • Doesn’t question the price
  • Doesn’t require an invoice
  • Requires goods immediately
  • Collects the equipment personally
  • Provides no company name
  • Doesn’t want to supply an address
  • Can only be contacted via a mobile phone
  • Uses an email address from a supplier such as Hotmail or Gmail

Action to take

  • Carry out a credit reference
  • Carry out a Companies House check
  • Check for a company website
  • Check Google Street View for a view of the address
  • Check that addresses and phone numbers tally

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