Ink that disappears when you touch it. Paper that changes color when a criminal tries to tamper with it. Hidden fibers visible only under a black light.
It all seems like technology straight out of a spy movie, but, in fact, it’s actually very likely what you’ll find when you buy a car and get a title from your local dealership. Take a look at how two companies joined forces to create highly secure documents for one state government—and thwart would-be criminals from car title fraud.
As large governmental bodies, states regularly bid out various large-scale printing projects—everything from birth certificates, unemployment checks, and automotive titles must be printed to meet each state’s exact specifications and ensure uniformity and security for their millions of citizens.
Certain printed documents require additional security measures to help protect against fraud, and states work with third-party vendors every few years to ensure documents can be created with the latest enhancements to ward off counterfeiters. Recently, one state worked with Michigan-based sales distributor CompleteSource, in cooperation with leading paper manufacturer Glatfelter, headquartered in Ohio, and The F.P. Horak Company, a Michigan printing and communications solutions provider, to take advantage of some of those cutting-edge technologies.
Car title fraud is a serious problem in the United States, adding up to an estimated $11.3 billion each year for consumers, according to the Consumer Federation of America. One common scheme, title washing, involves fabricating or manipulating vehicle titles and selling junk cars to unsuspecting buyers. Title washing rises in the wake of natural disasters, such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which damaged thousands of cars.
Fake or altered titles have erased the history of those disasters while sending potentially unsafe cars onto the roadways. Some of these titles were created or altered with little more than a home printer and a graphics-editing program.
Printing technology may be a boon to many organizations, but in the wrong hands, it can also lead the way to more sophisticated fraudulent activities.
“When new technology comes out with all the bells and whistles, we know there’s a line of folks out there waiting to find out what it can do illegally,” says The F.P. Horak Company sales consultant Bonnie Haslacker, who worked on the project team to create one state’s automotive titles.
“The state constantly has to deal with that (fraudulent activities), documents have to be changed up frequently,” she says. “We’re all taxpayers, and they (state governments) want to make sure they’re getting the best and most up-to-date security for the best price.”
Creating a robust, fraud-resistant document required a multi-pronged approach that leveraged the latest technologies in both paper and printing.
Dan Smith, sales consultant for The F.P. Horak Company, explains that putting together secure documents involves obvious and covert features, all uniquely layered to create a sophisticated product.
Security features might include specialized graphics and heat-sensitive (thermochromatic) inks that react when touched.
From a paper standpoint, sensitive documents are created with special papers that provide defense against chemical alteration—papers that break down, stain, or change colors when tampered with. Special embedded fibers, some of which are visible to the naked eye, are used to produce the documents that would be nearly impossible to duplicate.
“Pretty much everything has been done already. It’s how you layer and combine some of these features that provide a unique solution,” Smith says.
Although no solution can be 100-percent foolproof, Smith says the cross-team, multi-pronged approach to creating secure documents helps governments and other large organizations stay one step ahead of potential criminal activity.
Thermochromatic inks, special fibers, and myriad other security features all work together in reducing counterfeit and fraud.
“What you’re doing is providing insurance,” Smith says. “It doesn’t prevent you from having an accident, but it is a means of recovery.”