How Can You Tell If Your Documents Have the Right Security Features?

Brand Protection
January 28, 2021
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How Can You Tell if Your Security Documents are Authentic? | engage™

We may be living in a digital age, but we still put a lot of trust into physical documents. When we travel abroad, either for work or on holiday, we need a passport. If we have to enter a restricted area, we're going to need an ID card or other security documents. As we enlist the services of a professional, it's customary to check out their professional qualifications and credentials. Physical documents are still a big part of life and business, even in the twenty-first century.

This is why it's so important to be able to verify authentic documents. Fraudsters and counterfeiters are, unfortunately, very good at what they do. They don't create amateurish versions of legitimate credentials -- there's no money in this. Instead, they create great quality fake documents that you may struggle to tell apart from the real thing.

We are all familiar with our travel documents being inspected at a border crossing, be it a Passport or National Identity document. We know that the inspectors are trained to know what to look for and have the right tools to make a decision regarding the validity of a document quickly and accurately. We also know that they have additional resources available, should they have suspicions that a document has been counterfeited or altered in any other way.

Unfortunately, these resources and tools aren’t available to the general population, and a lot of the documents we need on a daily basis have security features that are not visible to the naked eye. That’s exactly why we’ve created engage™, to help people verify their important documents without requiring special training or advanced tools. 

In what follows, we’ll go over the most important security features found on documents, to help you better understand them and be more vigilant when it comes to the authenticity of your important papers. 

Types of security features on documents

Important documents such as driver’s licenses, passports, or professional certifications are susceptible to counterfeiting, and it can be hard to distinguish an original from a fake if you don’t know the basics. Authentic documents are layered with security features, which are easily categorized into three areas:

1. Overt security features

These are security features which can be easily identified and verified with the naked eye and include the following:

Holographic laminates

These often have clear features that are easily verified by the naked eye and are impossible to replicate with digital scanning. They can also be used to extend the lifespan of a document, especially an ID card.

Latent images 

Latent images are image switches created by specific printing techniques that make it difficult for a counterfeiter to reproduce the document digitally.

Optically variable inks 

These inks change colour when the document is moved. Their security is directly related to the fact that they are difficult to make and hard for a counterfeiter to access, as their proliferation is controlled.

2. Covert security features

These are security features that are not visible to the naked eye and need some specialist tool to read them. They include:


This can be included in holograms and printed areas of the document and required some level of magnification to see them. In addition these micro-texts often have a deliberate spelling mistake (known as a “printers mark”) in a specific area of the document making it challenging for the counterfeiter to accurate reproduce the document

UV features

these are printed features that are only visible under ultraviolet light, these features vary in security depending on the UV ink used and the complexity of the design

Anti-copy marks

These are embedded features within the document that are made up of coloured inks that are not seen by digital scanners and copiers, therefore if a counterfeiter tries to reproduce a document digitally “holes” appear in the print.

3. Forensic features

These features are hidden deep within the document or require specifically pared devices to authenticate them, and include:


These features are most often found in holograms and include extremely small features, such as text with a font high of less than 10 microns. Such features can only be verified by high powered microscopes.

IR taggants

While there are many infra red taggants that produce a visible signal when viewed with a laser pen, the really sophisticated taggants can identify IR signatures without a visible response, and are only verified with a paired device to read them. This makes it extremely difficult for a counterfeiter to even know they are present. The downside is that such readers are often expensive and not carried by inspectors.

Document DNA

This is the forensic verification of the document substrate itself, and requires specific analysis tools and techniques.

3 Examples of document verification loopholes 

The problem with most, if not all, identity documents is that they are used in far more situations than just border control. As such, the situations they are often used in do not allow the traditional features to be as useful as they were designed to be. 

Below we look at 3 everyday scenarios where Passports, Identity Cards or Driving Licences are used to verify someone's identity, and the potential benefits to a counterfeiter copying these documents:

1. A property purchase

As part of a property purchase, solicitors and conveyancers are required to verify the identity of the buyer. This process is there to ensure the purchaser is who they say they are. However, property has long been a target for money laundering and allows the opportunity for organized criminals to clean large volumes of money in what appear to be everyday transactions. The financial benefits for counterfeited documents in this scenario are significant, and yet the individuals verifying the documents are untrained and do not have access to any of the specialist tools we have discussed.

2. A routine police inspection

Any time police officers and other enforcement personnel are required to verify an individual's identity, this often takes place in the street and often in poor lighting conditions. Whilst the officers in question often have had some level of training to verify these documents, they will not have any specialist readers to identify more complex security features.

3. Opening a bank account

It is a requirement when opening a bank account to produce some sort of identity document such as a Driving Licence or Passport, or similar. However, the individual clerks and bank officers are not trained to verify these documents. Why is this problematic? With a valid bank account an illegal migrant can get work and get paid, an organized criminal can launder money or use the account to borrow substantial sums, which the bank can never recover. And these are just some of the potential scenarios that could result. 

Is there a better way of verifying important documents?

While it is reassuring that our border crossings are policed by highly trained officers armed with a raft of tools and techniques to verify an individual's identity, we still rely on the same documents on a daily basis but with no real way of verifying them. 

The consequences of counterfeit documents being used for border crossings are obvious, but the consequences of an individual using counterfeit identity documents on a day to day basis are equally destructive. This is where engage™ comes in.

Instant and reliable digital verification, at your fingertips

Digital verification is the next step in verifying documents. It brings all elements together, covering both overt and covert forms of security features, and eliminates the danger of anything being missed. Security features should be universal - they shouldn't require a background in document security techniques for an individual or business to protect themselves from fake documents. In this sense, a digital verification system democratizes the process, putting the power in the hands of the sender and recipient.

Smartphone integration increases this sense of democratization still further. The ubiquity of these devices in our society means that no one needs to have access to specially designed equipment, as they already have document verification capability right in the palm of their hand. This was one of the key elements behind the design of the engage™ app: to provide a user-friendly system that combats fraudulent documents and keeps the public safe across all kinds of use cases.

engage™  gives an inspector, officer, or bank clerk the possibility to verify an electronic identity document directly from a smartphone, instantly and with enough accuracy to call a potentially counterfeit document into question. Imagine the potential to verify an identity document with similar accuracy to a border control official - all with your own smartphone. That’s exactly what engage™ has to offer, so reach out to us to see the app in action and how it can protect your important documents. 

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