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Miss SVG gets serious shock after applying for passport

Miss SVG gets serious shock after applying for passport

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Those who feel they are at low risk of becoming victims of identity theft should have a chat with reigning Miss St Vincent and the Grenadines Nikianna Timesha Williams, who has found herself unable to obtain a passport.

A few weeks ago, Williams, 22 years old, applied to the Immigration Department for a St Vincent and the Grenadines passport. After she submitted her application, she was told that in order to get a new passport, she would have to bring in the passport that she was issued five years ago, which had expired.

A simple request, except that this was the first time Nikianna had ever applied for a passport.

On further investigation by the Immigration Department, it was discovered that over five years ago, someone had used birth certificates belonging to Nikianna and her mother to apply for and obtain a passport in Nikianna’s name.

It is believed that the person who assumed Nikianna’s identity had been deported from Canada and used the fraudulently obtained passport to gain re-entry into Canada and is probably still in that country today.

Now, Nikianna has to await the findings of investigations by the Immigration Department and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) before she can obtain a passport of her own.

SEARCHLIGHT contacted Nikianna last Saturday, but she said that she was not interested in discussing the issue, as the problem is being sorted out and that she would soon get her passport.

According to a usually reliable source, Nikianna had applied for a passport so that she could travel to the United States to return to SVG on the inaugural Caribbean Airlines flight from New York on February 14.

Nikianna was born on February 25, 1994 to Roxanne Arlene Williams and Timothy Jr Percy Simmons. When her identity was stolen, Nikianna would have been 17 years old.

A person may apply for a passport without their parents’ consent at the age of 16. If the person is under the age of 16, the parent’s birth certificate also has to be produced.

If the child is born out of wedlock, the child’s mother’s birth certificate must be provided. The passport application must also be certified and children under the age of 16 will not be granted a passport without written consent of the parent.

If the person is 16 years old and over, the process of applying for a passport involves presenting two certified passport photos and a certified application form. The applicant also has to provide his or her birth certificate and a national identification card.

Although these documents are provided, the Immigration Department still carries out various checks to verify that the information is authentic.

On Monday, Chief Immigration Officer Stanford Hamilton said that he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but noted that identity theft is a worldwide phenomenon and is somewhat difficult to detect, especially when dealing with what the Immigration Department refers to as breeder documents (birth certificates etc).

Hamilton said that while a number of checks are done when someone applies for a passport and while the Immigration Department works in tandem with civil registries and other entities, sometimes persons can beat the system.

The Immigration Department head said that at this point, one of the main documents of identity (even though it doesn’t have a photograph) is the birth certificate.

He noted that identification through a birth certificate is strengthened by the fact that the State has granted authority to a number of different persons who are allowed to verify a person’s identity by certifying photos and other documents.

These persons include justices of the peace, lawyers, marriage officers, magistrates and notaries public.

“The State has identified these persons to assist in the process of verification and that is why if we are dealing with a passport application, you have in it the section where you require verification or certification and it could only be done as the law directs by certain persons who would assist the state in helping identify you,” explained Hamilton.

He said that if questions arise, the Chief Immigration Officer has the prerogative to ask for other documentation to verify identity.

The Immigration head said there is no one solution to indentity theft, but to help reduce such occurences, his department regularly trains officers so that they can be better equipped in fighting the problem, while they have partnered with several entities.

He noted also that copies of original documents are not always easy to forge, as there are security features like watermarks and so on.

“But even so, you still have persons who are bent on that form of criminality to continue their best to see how much they can clone and copy these documents,” said Hamilton.

He said that if persons have reason to believe that their identification has been stolen and if they think that someone is in the process of stealing their identity, they must report it at once either to the CID or the Immigration Department.

Hamilton stressed that the authorities will do all in their power to nab the culprit or culprits, once they have knowledge of the situation. He said that it does not matter where that criminal is located.

“There are areas of networking…we have Interpol and all the other entities that form part of the security architecture worldwide and in the Caribbean diaspora.

“We do have areas where we can cooperate or collaborate with other agencies so that we can have these matters solved and persons brought to justice,” reiterated Hamilton.

He, however, noted that this is not a serious or overwhelming problem in SVG as it is in other jurisdictions, but noted that a few persons have tried to steal persons’ identities and have been arrested and sent to prison.

“We have had persons from other nationalities try that, but our system here, even if it is not foolproof, it is rather difficult to beat. Our new system carries the latest security architecture and design and it helps in establishing, even before a document is issued that we may have a fraudulent application before us,” said Hamilton, who is encouraging persons to be on the lookout for instances of identity theft and to report them.

“We would like to encourage the general population to work with us and when they have information, come to us so we can prevent the misuse and abuse of our wonderful system”, said Hamilton.

In May 2012, Mark John Dublin was sentenced to three years in jail after he pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud and deception. Dublin was deported from Canada on May 9, 2012, after travelling there using a fraudulently obtained passport, in the name of Franko Roberts, who died in 2007.

The following year, in May 2013, Nigerian Macro-manus Ebuka Ugwu was sentenced to six months imprisonment for presenting a Form A passport application and birth certificate in the name of Janet Jackson, pretending that Jackson, a Vincentian, was his mother. He was sentenced to a further three months in jail for falsely representing himself to immigration officer Shawn Bradshaw, to be the son of Janet Jackson. The sentences ran concurrently.

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