How to Spot a Fake Green Card

Typos, inconsistencies, and more obscure clues to whether you, as an employer hiring an immigrant, are looking at a real Permanent Resident Card (“green card”) or a fake.

By , J.D.

For employers who see Permanent Resident Cards ("green cards") frequently while hiring immigrants and filling out the federally required I-9, it can be easy to spot a fake one from a mile away. One glance might reveal that the font, alignment, and layout are inconsistent with genuine green 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, as an employer, to believe that the document might be fraudulent, you might have a duty to review it more closely. See What to Do If an Employee's Green Card or Other I-9 Documents Look Fake or Suspicious for details.

This article focuses on the green card itself, and some of the common signs that a green card is fake.

Typos, Inconsistencies, and Other Signs of a Fake Green Card

Remember that you are not expected to be a document expert, but if a document does not pass your initial "smell test," you might be able to use the information below to confirm or change your initial determination.

  1. The font, alignment, or layout of the card are inconsistent with genuine cards. You can look at examples of valid cards in Section 12.1 of the I-9 Handbook for Employers.
  2. 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) in 2003, 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.
  3. The card is the wrong version for the time period in which it was issued. See the examples in the Handbook for Employers. 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.
  4. The card contains internal inconsistencies. The USCIS number on the face of the card should match the number at the end of the first line of "code" on the back of the card. The date of birth on the front of the card should also be the same as the one listed at the beginning of the second line of "code" on the back of the card.
  5. The card contains other typos or grammatical errors. Fake cards more commonly contain typos on the back of the card rather than on the front.
  6. You are looking at a "Resident Alien" card with 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.
  7. The card contains the incorrect form number. The form number for all green cards issued since 1979 is I-551. On newer cards, this is printed on the back of the card in the upper left corner. Some fake green cards have been spotted with a 1-551 ("one"-551) instead of I-551 ("eye"-551) or have the form number I-766, which corresponds with an Employment Authorization Document, not a green card. Others have completely random numbers following the "I".

What If You're Still Not Sure Whether a Green Card Is Fake?

If you are not certain that a document is fake, do not reject it. 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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