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Part #3 of my mini-series about fake documentation in crime fiction…

Yep, this is (major spoiler alert!) the one made famous by Freddy Forsyth’s novel/film.

The bit where our professional assassin the Jackal trawls through the headstones in an English graveyard looking for a baby who, if still alive, would have been around the same age as him (oh yeah, and gender).

He copies down the details (“Paul Oliver Duggan, 3 April 1929 – 8 November 1931”), gets a copy birth certificate (at the Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths), submits the cert with his real photo and application form for a “real” passport and…

That was back in 1962 – more than half a century ago. Do such loopholes still exist? And can you afford to risk it?

This is the difference between the Jackal era and the Jason (Bourne) one: all those computers and cameras and spy satellites nowadays.

James Fox at the border between Italy and France in the Day of the Jackal

“OK Mr Duggan (aka the Jackal), what’s in ze case? Aftershave?”

Or… you could always nick one.

This was an additional option taken by the Jackal: you steal a passport from someone who looks reasonably like you – and possibly substitute your own photo.

This was reasonably easy to do in the days of The Jackal or The Talented Mr Ripley – watch out for Alain Delon doing this with his warm Plasticine and hot projector in Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), the 1960 French film version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel – but – here we go again – wouldn’t stolen passports be flagged on international computer networks nowadays?

Alain Delon fakes passports in Plein Soleil

Alain Delon as Ripley: note all the passport photos, the magnifying glass and (in the background) the breakfast tray with croissant and all-important cup of hot water to warm his Plasticine…

Alain Delon’s main problems were relatively simple: forging his friend Dickie Greenleaf’s signature and adding an embossing stamp onto his photo.

That was then and this is now. What about all that holographic script, all those fine guilloche lines and other background/security printing features, the coloured security fibres and fluorescent inks, the fluorescent fibres showing up in random places at varying depths (and different on each page), the UV features and anti-copy patterns, Identigrams (holographic photo of the ID holder’s face), extensive micro text, Machine Readable Zones, staggered collation marks, tamper-proof laminate with embedded wavy lines, the correct binding and… suppose the flipping thing also has an embedded RFID chip?

Yes, these two particular options – getting a genuine passport with someone else’s birth cert, or altering a stolen one – are getting harder and harder nowadays, each with a growing number of problems. They’re also so well known in crime fiction. All the more reason not to use them in my next book.

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