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TRY, TRY AGAIN

While agents did have initial trouble getting their fake licenses on their first try, Douglas said that's even more cause for concern.

"The shocking thing is most states picked up they were forged documents but never did anything about it," he said. "That means there is no risk to the person trying to obtain the false driver's license."

The test was very realistic, said Douglas, whose American Privacy Consultants firm advises banks and other financial institutions on identity theft. Criminals often probe security controls several times until they find the right formula for success.

"That's the way the real bad guys work. They keep pinging away, looking for the soft underbelly of the security procedure."

In the weeks after Sept. 11, state-issued identifications cards -- principally driver's licenses -- drew much attention from security experts as a systematic weakness. With each state issuing its own forms of identification, there are hundreds of acceptable forms of state-issued photo ID.

"If one can get a counterfeit driver's license so easily today, we've got to do something about that," Baucus said.

For some, national ID cards would go a long way toward solving the problem. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison offered to donate the software needed to create national ID cards soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Opponents say such a card would endanger civil liberties and give the federal government too much data about individual citizens and there whereabouts.

But Douglas said the current situation -- he thinks there are about 400 state ID formats currently -- is untenable.

"Behind the scenes we need to have standardization so an ID card from Virginia can be verified using the same software as an ID card from California. To me that's common sense," Douglas said. "Otherwise, there are forms of identification that most people in their own state can't recognize, much less neighboring states."
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