For U.S. 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 or counterfeit 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 this identity card.
Then again, you don't want to jump to conclusions. For one thing, the U.S. often redesigns the green card. So, for example, the one issued beginning in January of 2023 was a stronger shade of green, which might look artificial to employers accustomed to the older, lighter cards.
In any case, when an initial review of any I-9 document leads you, as an employer, to believe that the document might be fraudulent, you potentially have a legal 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 a forgery and not acceptable as proof of the right to work in the United States.
Typos, Mistakes and Inconsistencies, and Other Signs of a Fake Green Card
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The card contains internal inconsistencies. The USCIS number (USCIS#) 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. If, for example, the birthdate on the front is listed as 17 Aug. 1958, you should be able to spot 580817 on the back.
- The card contains other typos or spelling or grammatical errors. Fake cards more commonly contain typos and related mistakes on the back of the card rather than on the front. A sentence like "If find, dop in any US Mailbox" is a serious sign of trouble.
- You are looking at a "Resident Alien" card with an expiration date in 2009 or later. Green cards without expiration dates are acceptable for I-9 purposes. Those with expiration dates should, however, have expired in 2008 or earlier.
- 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 (the number "one"-551) instead of I-551 (the letter, pronounced "eye"-551) or have the form number I-766, which corresponds with an Employment Authorization Document, not a green card. Others have been seen bearing completely random numbers following the "I".
- The card is an obvious copy of an online sample. Get to know the versions USCIS posts online, and if you see the exact same photos, birthdates, fingerprint pattern, or signature in a card you're presented, be suspicious.
- The card doesn't feel like it should. Perhaps the plastic coating feels flimsy and the whole card feels thin. Or perhaps it's all completely flat. Modern cards have what the government calls "tactile features," or raised letters and images that one can feel by running a finger over the card.
What If You're Still Not Sure Whether a Green Card Is Fake?
If you are not certain that a supposed green card is a forgery, do not reject it quite yet. It is always best to have a clear I-9 policy in place and to consult an experienced immigration attorney when you have questions about your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to reviewing documents presented by would-be employees.