The discovery of Fraudulent International Driving Permits (IDP) is becoming an increasing concern for authorities after the Licensing Division seized 20 in the last year. The fraudulent permits were reportedly issued to migrants by online scammers.
This alarming trend has now put the Licensing Division, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service(TTPS), and the T&T Automobile Association(TTAA) on their guard.
The scheme rakes in quick cash for internet fraudsters who target mostly Spanish-speaking migrants and Caribbean nationals either residing here or visiting the country for a short stay and want to drive while here.
Unsuspecting migrants pay between $1,200-$1,500 to purchase the false permit. Sources said some migrants have been forced to pay even more.
The IDP is a document that gives motorists the legal rights to drive in a country they visit. It also provides important information from your driver’s licence in several different languages. As an official travel document, the IDP is used in conjunction with a national domestic licence, it is recognised in 150 countries and valid for one year from the date of issue.
This document came into existence under several United Nations conventions on road traffic of which T&T is a signatory.
A T&T national with a valid driver’s permit can obtain an IDP for $200 from the TTAA to drive outside of our country. Foreigners or visitors seeking to drive in T&T would have to apply for an IDP at a specific agency in their home country.
With the online scheme gaining momentum, Transport Commissioner Clive Clark has vowed to stamp out this illegal activity. He warned migrants who subscribe to this scheme that they could face a fine or even a jail term.
Anyone found in possession of a fraudulent IDP “may be arrested forthwith without a warrant and shall be liable to a fine of $1,500 or imprisonment for one year” under Section 42 (1) of the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act.
The holder of the illegal permit can also face a $7,500 fine or imprisonment under the Motor Vehicle and Insurance (third party risks) Act 48:51 Section 25.
Clarke said while Licensing Division confiscated approximately 20 of the fraudulent IDPs, the TTPS seized several as well. However, the Corporate Communications Unit of the TTPS was unable to provide the numbers despite an email request sent by the Sunday Guardian more than two weeks ago.
“There is too much disobedience by motorists on the roads and the Licensing Division will have zero tolerance to this type of behaviour,” Clarke said in a recent interview.
Business owners hiring holders of illegal IDPs–Transport Commissioner
Clarke said they had observed that several local businesses and firms have been employing migrants with illegal IDPs to drive vehicles to transport goods or provide a service.
“We came across cases where businessmen are hiring people with bogus IDPs. They are giving them their heavy T vehicles to drive without checking their documents. They are driving and even transporting people. You could have this sort of behaviour interfering with people’s lives and livelihoods.”
During a routine exercise by law enforcement officers in San Juan late last year, Clarke said, they found a PH driver with a fake IDP transporting passengers.
“This is an arrestable offence. I believe quite frankly that these people who are using these permits are aware that what they are doing is wrong. We don’t have a culture when you enter a vehicle you would ask someone to present their driver’s permit. That is the responsibility of the law to conduct enforcement.”
If the PH driver were to get in an accident, Clarke said, passengers may not be covered by insurance because of the fake licence and illegal operation.
During a TTPS and Licensing Division roadblock in Diego Martin earlier this month, Clarke said they caught three foreign drivers with false IDPs in their possession.
Clarke explained that an authentic IDP comes in a “booklet format” which bears a photograph of the driver, name, address, age, and country of origin.
However, what the migrants would present to law enforcement officers is a plastic card, similar to a driving permit.
“So it is easy for us to identify a false from a genuine IDP. Anytime someone tries to present plastic for us we know there is a problem there. It is fake.
“To produce something like that…to produce a card without security features could cost between $3 to $5. A plastic card by itself is normally $1 for one or 50 cents if it is sold in bulk. And if there is no security into that via a security overlay, via some unique identifier, via hidden features into the design that is no security. The cards they are using is a cheap piece of document.”
He said the IDPs that are confiscated could be produced by anyone who has access to an ID printer which can be purchased in a store.
Fake IDP holders remain tight-lipped
Clarke said many holders of the fake IDPs remain tight-lipped when they are caught.
Some also have difficulty communicating because of the language they speak.
“There always seems to be a language barrier. So we would have to get a translator.”
Asked if Licensing Division had picked up any T&T national in possession of these IDPs, Clarke said no.
“I want us to be clear on that. The information we have is that they (migrants) are coming in with it. Some persons said they ordered it online on a particular site and it was sent to them. There are also rumours that some of them are generated here. We have no confirmation on that. We are not certain as to the source of where the IDPs exist. If we had reasonable information to determine the source we would have taken the necessary steps to deal with it.”
TTAA: Purchaser fooled into thinking it can work
President of the TTAA Selwyn Persad confirmed to Guardian Media that his association has seen an increase in false IDPs in T&T within recent times.
The TTAA is the governing body responsible for issuing IDPs to T&T nationals seeking to drive outside of our jurisdiction.
“Yes, there is a lot of fake and misleading permits out there,” Persad said during a telephone interview recently.
He said a large percentage of the fake IDPs originate from one particular Spanish-speaking country.
Persad cited Touring y Automovil Club de Venezuela in Caracas as the bonafide agency that issues valid IDP to Venezuelans.
He said the bogus IDPs are sourced online.
On theTTAA’s website, it warned people entering and leaving the country to be careful of online scam sites that try to sell IDPs.
“I have reported the matter to the Federation of International Automobile (FIA) and the relevant authorities. In fact, we had a few discussions with the Licensing Division regarding the illegal cards.”