Over 268.000 ID cards or biometric passports reported to police as lost or stolen can still be used within the country in Albania for transactions, notary actions, or criminal activity until they expire. Notary Public offices, microloan institutions and money transfer points, as well as some Second Level Banks do not have a common system for the verification of the ID card status, which is only reflected in the TIMS system. The lack of coordination among institutions breaks the security system of the ID cards, which has been created in the framework of the concessionary contract between the Ministry of Interior and ALEAT, in the amount of 25 million euros (28.2 million $).
The morning of May 10th 2016, Julian Delvina appeared at a Second Level Bank and payed the amount of 87.200 ALL (821 $) for the customs clearance of a BMW X5 vehicle. Julian made the payment on behalf of the vehicle owner Xhuljano Sorra. The transaction was performed normally and the bank invoice paved the way for the registration process of the vehicle entering the Albanian market.
This is what results from the documents stored in the Regional Directorate of Road Transport Services file, while the truth is completely different.
The car was smuggled in, its data was falsified during customs clearance, while Julian Delvina’s ID card was used and his signature was forged. Investigations by the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office revealed the fraud with the forgery of documents. After interrogation and at the end of the investigation it turned out that the payment to clear this vehicle was not made by Julian. In addition, during the expertise act of his signature, requested by the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office, it turned out that: “The complete undersigning, name surname and signature, which appears on the bank invoice under the Credins Bank logo is a fictitious signature.”
But where did the smugglers get Julian’s ID card?
In early 2016, Julian Delvina presented himself to the police and reported losing his identity card and then performed the procedures with ALEAT to obtain a new card. Although his ID was declared lost, it continues to be functional within the country in Albania.
According to MediaLook sources, the persons who took this card used it to commit at least 14 other forgeries for smuggled goods, mainly vehicles, from the customs of Përmet and Saranda.
We contacted the Përmet Prosecutor’s Office, and its director Asllan Bajramaj confirmed “investigations showed that Julian Delvina’s personal data had been stolen and used” by a group of people suspected of forgery and smuggling. According to him, investigations continue, but Julian is now a witness, not a defendant.
On the other hand, Saranda Prosecutor’s Office refused to make information available on Delvina’s position despite MediaLook’s insistence, noting the fact that the case is under investigation.
But sources close to the Customs Directorate inform that “despite the fact that Julian’s ID card was used, he has been fined an estimated 5 million new ALL (47.098 $) for evasion of customs duty and penalties that are twice the value of the real tax”.
Julian Delvina’s case is not the only one. There are thousands of citizens who have reported losing their identity cards. However, the latter are not taken off the market, but continue to be valid within the territory of the Republic of Albania.
Regarding this issue, SPAK is investigating a voluminous file containing some 44 registered lawsuits on forgery of documents and car smuggling. The file includes the cases of dozens of people whose identities have been used, in one way or another, without their consent.
What is more, a customs agent anonymously told us that the use of fake identities is turning into a scheme, as “in some cases it is the criminals themselves who report a lost card to the police, only to use it later for transactions, in order not to identify them “.
Institutions cannot verify the validity of ID cards
Notary offices, banks, money exchange points, microloan institutions, money transfer points and any other public or private institution that requires the ID card to provide the service do not have a common online registry to verify if a card is reported as lost or stolen, although according to the police their number is considerable, over 268.000, in the last four years (2017-2020).
Information on stolen or lost IDs is only recorded in the TIMS system and only a limited number of institutions such as SHISH (Albanian Intelligence Agency), the Prosecutor’s Office, Police Directorate, Customs, Tax and “Money Laundering” Offices have access to it. This allows criminal groups and smugglers, as in the case of Julian, to commit counterfeiting and illegal transactions with stolen ID cards, leaving no trace for their identification.
MediaLook officially contacted the Ministry of Justice, which confirmed that “the Sector for Regulation of Free Professions (notaries, bailiffs), as well as at the Ministry of Justice do not have such a registry” to verify the validity of the cards.
We interviewed some notaries, who explained to us that through the e-Albania system they can only access the civil status of the individual, but not the validity of the card presented. We officially contacted the Directorate of Civil Status, which confirms that its system does not have information on stolen and lost cards: “We inform you that this data is not available for the General Directorate of Civil Status, in the Ministry of Interior, but for the concessionaire and the State Police”.
On the other hand, the Bank of Albania – which has licensed 12 second level banks, 33 lending and microloan financial institutions, 17 credit saving companies and 556 money exchange points – states that these entities “can choose to perform the identification of their clients through various means of identification in use” and the verification of the legal deadline of the ID.
From observations carried out at the counters of some of these licensed institutions, it has been noticed that second level banks, non-bank financial institutions or money transfer points request but do not verify the validity of the identity card, although in these institutions there are cases when money transfers have been made or loans with false identities have been taken.
For the former prosecutor of the Serious Crimes Prosecution in Tirana, Gentian Trenova, in the case of “the use of IDs, the technical facilities must be provided to verify the validity at the moment. For example, the notary must have the possibility to immediately verify the validity of the ID card during the notarial act. The same applies for an employee at a bank when making a transfer, or in other institutions where the individual presents himself/herself with an identity card”.
According to him, the inability to verify the validity of the card by the institutions “creates space for abuse and commission of various criminal offenses. The risk in these cases increases due to the difficulty that may be created in the subsequent identification of the invalid card user”.
Such an initiative has been taken by the National Chamber of Notaries since 2017. The aim of the project – which has remained pending until the notary system under the new law becomes effective – was to verify the ID card through the fingerprint of the person appearing before the notary.
“To increase security, we have long started a project with ALEAT for the installation of equipment in every notary office to verify fingerprints,” said Mimoza Sadushaj, Head of the Chamber of Notaries.
According to her, this device will be connected to the system putting an end to any concerns regarding the use of identity or forgery of signatures: “Many citizens complain that they have not been to the notary office and have not signed. This device leaves traces for a period of 20 years in the notary system, which confirms that a certain person, at this hour, on this date, has been in the notary office and this is confirmed by fingerprints. So, the validity of the card is verified, and the fingerprint proves that the person has been in the notary office”, – concludes Mrs. Sadushaj.
The Head of the National Chamber of Notaries states that now that the notary system has been consolidated, they will resume talks with ALEAT and other companies for the installation of these devices.
Police and the concessionaire cannot destroy lost ID cards, physical copy functional within the country until expiration
Over 268,515 ID cards and biometric passports have been reported as lost or stolen by citizens in the territory of the Republic of Albania in the last four years (2017-2020). The General Police Directorate has responded to our request for information, noting that 2019 has marked the highest number of reports.
What happens when the citizen loses an identity card? Is it suspended or invalidated immediately when citizens report it to the police? Are all institutions notified of this revocation?
MediaLook has contacted the State Police and the Ministry of Interior and based on the information gathered it turns out that the only measure that these institutions take is “changing the status of the ID card or biometric passport in the TIMS system into stolen or lost” and equipping the citizen with a certificate from the Police that is used to obtain a new card.
This means that the ID card remains valid for use within the country for bank transactions or notarial acts, purchase of telephone cards or taking loans – as is the case with hundreds of reports to the police and prosecutors – because none of these institutions have access to this system.
We also requested official information from ALEAT Company, which was reserved in its response, and directed us to the Ministry of Interior as the authority which is supposed to provide information based on the concession contract.
However, employees in some ALEAT offices in Tirana and Durrës anonymously told us that “the citizen who applies for a new card must have a certificate of loss or theft issued by the state police and the coupon.” In addition, – say the employees, “the operators deactivate the chip of the old card, which loses the electronic services but not its validity, as the physical copy of the card is valid until its expiration date”.
These statements of the employees are also confirmed in the section “Deactivation of Electronic Functions of the ID Card”, in the official webpage of ALEAT, which specifies: Reason for Deactivation = Lost or stolen ID card. The ID card is still valid, after the revocation of birth certificates. The ID card is valid until it expires, but it cannot be used for Electronic Services.
This means that counterfeiters or smugglers can use the physical copies of 268.515 ID cards and biometric passports reported as stolen or lost for criminal purposes until the expiration date.
The lack of coordination between institutions has broken the security system of ID cards, which has been created in the framework of the concessionary contract between the Ministry of Interior and ALEAT in the total amount of 25 million euros (28.2 million $).
According to former Prosecutor Gentian Trenova, because of the increasing number of reports for stolen or lost ID cards, it is necessary to draft a detailed plan with experts. He claims that another solution for minimizing the abuse with the use of identity can be the connection of the card with the personal mobile phone number: “In these cases, a technical possibility can be created for the person holding the original card to be informed electronically with a message (SMS) that his/her card is being used to perform an action.”
Meanwhile, expert of development of online sites and platforms Erion Elezi states that, “failing to invalidate the ID card immediately after it is reported as lost or stolen, creates space for its use in many cybercrimes”.
“Patronage database” a source of cybercrime, experts: with that data, fake profiles and fictitious businesses can be created!
Just before the parliamentary elections of April 25, 2021, a database was published that had allegedly been built by the staff of the Socialist Party with sensitive personal data of 910.000 voters of Tirana aged 19 to 99 years old. This database, with a capacity of 369 MB, stored ID card informations, telephone numbers, polling station, workplace, patronage and political affiliation records.
“The database published online or the one that was electronically shared among journalists and individuals is probably one of the biggest scandals of recent years”, – says Elezi.
This fact was also confirmed by the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection, who launched an administrative investigation into this serious violation of privacy for 910.000 individuals whose data circulated online without their consent: “…Given the extremely wide rate of data processing, contrary to the principles and criteria of personal data processing, the Office of the Commissioner claims that the massive dissemination of the Database constitutes the most serious violation of privacy and the right of citizens for the protection of their personal data, which in international legal vocabulary is known as “personal data breach”, – states the Commissioner’s report.
This database, in addition to compromising the personal data of citizens, can be used by individuals or criminal groups. For example, false profiles can be opened in e-Albania with ID cards and other personal information, says law and investigation expert, Gentian Trenova.
According to him, “There is a risk for a considerable number of people who have never applied to the e-Albania platform. There are many individuals in Albania or emigrants who are not registered with their profile on this platform. In these cases, from the published data, malicious people can get the ID card number of the person who has never activated his/her e-Albania account, and create a false profile”.
Furthermore former prosecutor and expert Elezi states that “by creating profiles in e-Albania, criminal groups can apply for and open businesses as individuals, where they can channel transfers, and launder money without being identified.” “For this reason,” he added, “the Albanian authorities must be very alert to prevent these crimes.”
National Agency of ICT has not responded to MediaLook’s request for information regarding the specialists concern.
Experts say the elderly, who have not activated their account on the government portal, are the most vulnerable target group who are subject to identity theft.
Note: The investigation was produced with the financial support of the United States Embassy in Tirana and Partners. Its contents are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Embassy in Tirana and Partners.