How to Spot a Fake Green Card

Typos, inconsistencies, and more obscure clues.

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For employers who see Permanent Resident Cards (“green cards”) frequently, it may be easy to spot a fake one from a mile away. An initial glance at the document may reveal that the font, alignment, and layout are inconsistent with genuine cards; that the document does not contain the normal security features; and/or that there are glaring typos on the face of the card.

When an initial review of any I-9 document leads you to believe that the document may be fraudulent, you may have a duty to review the document more closely. See "What to Do If an Employee's I-9 Documents Look Suspicious" for more details.

This article focuses on the green card itself and some of the most common signs that a green card is fake. Remember that you are not expected to be a document expert, but if a document does not pass your initial “smell test,” you may be able to use the information below to confirm or change your initial determination.

  1. The card number contains the wrong number of digits. Aside from the older “Resident Alien” cards (for which the Alien Number is the card number) green card numbers have 13 digits: three letters, followed by ten numbers. The number is found in the code at the bottom of the card, on the right, in the top line. It can also be found on the back of the card in the holographic strip.
  2. The card number is in an invalid format. The number, as noted above, should contain three letters and be followed by ten numbers.
  3. The font, alignment, or layout of the card are inconsistent with genuine cards. You can look at examples of valid cards on pages 54-55 of the I-9 Handbook for Employers. Detailed information about the features of the most recent version of the green card (issued beginning in May 2010) is available here. Detailed information about older cards is available in the Guide to Selected U.S. Travel and Identity Documents at pages 9-13. A newer version of the Guide has been released, but the government currently only provides it in hard copy. You can request a copy here (ask for Form M-396) and can view an electronic version (not provided by the government) on this USCIS page.
  4. The card contains references to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) but was issued after the agency ceased to exist and the green card was revised. The INS became a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) several years ago, and its functions were divided amongst a number of agencies. The Permanent Resident Card was revised in 2004 to reflect the DHS seal; cards issued after that should not contain references to the INS. 
  5. The card is the wrong version of the card for the time period in which it was issued. See the examples in the Handbook for Employers and in the Guide to Selected U.S. Travel and Identity Documents. Note that the issue date for the card is not found on the card and is not necessarily the same as the date that permanent residence began. Cards are typically issued for two-year or ten-year periods. You can usually determine when a card was issued by typing the 13-digit card number (as the “receipt number”) on the USCIS Case Status Online page.
  6. The card contains internal inconsistencies.The Alien Number (A#) on the face of the card should match the Alien Number in the lines of “code” on the bottom or the back of the card. Same goes for the expiration date, card number, and date of birth.
    1. The first line of code (on the bottom of the front or back of the card, depending on when the card was issued) contains the Alien Number and card number. The A# is in the 6th-14th positions; the card number is in positions 16-30.
    2. The second line of code contains the card holder’s date of birth in positions 1-6 in YYMMDD format. The card expiration date is in the same format in positions 9-14.
  7. The name of the issuing agency is misspelled. The “Departament” of Homeland Security, for example, does not exist.
  8. The card contains other typos. Fake cards more commonly contain typos on the back of the card (rather than on the front).
  9. You are looking at a “Resident Alien” card that contains an expiration date in 2009 or later.Resident Alien cards without expiration dates are acceptable for I-9 purposes. Those with expiration dates should have expired in 2008 or earlier.

If you are not certain that a document is fake, do not reject it. Remember that it is always best to have a clear I-9 policy in place and to speak with an immigration attorney when you have questions about your responsibilities when it comes to reviewing documents.

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