Proof of identity is a prerequisite for opening bank accounts, qualifying for employment, purchasing or renting a home, and entering a number of other business or legal arrangements. There’s no one-size-fits-all identification document because of the diversity of the specific situations that require proof of identity. And in many cases, more than one document may be required to confirm identity.
Mandated Proof of Identity
Beyond mere confirmation that a person truly is who she says she is, the mandated requirement for proof of identity affects many public, private and governmental sectors. For example, employers must confirm that each employee they hire is legally eligible to work in the U.S. Citizens who travel outside this country must produce a passport book or card to prove not only their identity, but also their U.S. citizenship. And proof of identity links a person to her tax liability through her Social Security number.
Primary vs. Secondary Identification Documents
Most companies or agencies differentiate between primary and secondary identification documents. Primary identification documents, such as a driver’s license with photo, generally have a person’s full name and date of birth. Secondary identification documents, such as a Social Security card, generally have the person’s full name but not his date of birth. As proof of identity, a person may have to produce, for example, two primary identification documents or one primary and two secondary documents.
Examples of identification documents in these two categories include:
Primary Identification Documents
- Driver’s license with photo.
- Unexpired passport.
- Original or certified birth certificate.
- Military identification.
- U.S. citizenship and immigration documentation.
- Marriage license/certificate.
Secondary Identification Documents
- Social Security card.
- Computerized paycheck stub.
- Union membership card.
- Work ID.
- Health insurance card.
- Income tax forms.
Age-Specific Identification Documents
Persons under the age of 18 typically have fewer identification documents than older adults. Because of this limiting factor, persons younger than age 18 may produce other documents to prove their identity. Depending on the circumstance that necessitates proof of identity for a minor child, other acceptable identification documents include a school record or report card, medical records, or an adoption order.
Other than age as a limiting factor for producing identification documents, there are many homeless or disenfranchised adults and youth who have no access to identifying paperwork or the means to pay for copies. Many states offer help for mitigating some of the barriers that stand in the way of these individuals. For example, some states allow identification card applicants to sign an affidavit of proof of residence, and some states waive fees to obtain non-driver identification cards for those experiencing homelessness, poverty or disabilities.
Driver’s License Proof of Identity
Driver’s licenses, just as other identity documents, must be current and unexpired. Some employers and agencies accept not only U.S. driver’s licenses but also licenses from outlying U.S. possessions (as of date of publication, these are American Samoa and Swains Island) and from Canadian government authorities. And some states, such as Tennessee, accept driver’s license from other countries under limited circumstances. Certain identifiers and personal characteristics must be noted on a driver’s license such as name, address, date of birth, gender, height and eye color.
REAL ID Proof of Identity
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (known as the 9/11 Commission) recommended that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The REAL ID Act of 2005 established these standards. The primary objective of REAL ID cards was to bump up the security standards behind state-issued driver’s licenses and other identification cards to allow cardholders to access federal facilities, board commercial aircraft and enter nuclear power plants.
Although a REAL ID driver’s license looks almost identical to the holder’s former driver’s license, it bears an identifying star marker to indicate that the license is REAL ID-compliant. Before an applicant can receive a REAL ID, she must present documentation that confirms her full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, two proofs of address at a principal residence and lawful status.
All states must issue REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses or ID cards by the enforcement deadline of October 1, 2020, which means that this proof of identity will be available to all applicants no later than this date.
Passport Proof of Identity
A U.S. passport is proof of identity as well as proof of U.S. citizenship. Although the passport may be in book form or card form, they have slightly different travel uses. A U.S. passport book can be used for all international travel, including by air, sea or land. But a U.S. passport card cannot be used for international air travel, only at land border crossings (Canada and Mexico) and seaports-of-entry (the Caribbean and Mexico).
Both passport books and cards are REAL ID-compliant, which means they can also be used as proof of identity for domestic air travel. Costs vary, with higher fees for passport books ($110 to $145) than passport cards ($30 to $65), depending on the age of applicants as well as whether the passport is for first-time applicants or renewals.
Passport applicants must provide identifying documentation such as a certified birth certificate (or certificate of naturalization or citizenship) and driver’s license (or military or government ID). Digital ID documents, also called mobile IDs or mobile driver’s licenses, are not accepted when applying for a passport. Applicants must present a physical document with a photo ID.
Using a Foreign Passport as Identification
For a foreign passport to be accepted as a primary proof of identification, it must be accompanied by a valid United States visa or Form I-94. Foreign passports issued in a language other than English must be translated into English and contain a Certificate of Accurate Translation.
Birth Certificate Proof of Identity
Although a birth certificate is not a photo ID, companies and agencies accept it as proof of identity, typically when paired with an additional photo ID document, because it contains two important identifiers – a person’s full name and date of birth. Only original or certified copies of birth certificates are acceptable; photocopies won’t work. Birth certificates must also be issued by the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the state department of health, or other authorized government agency.
- Persons born in the U.S.: Some hospital-issued certificates, commonly known as a mother’s copy, are not accepted as proof of identity because they are not certified and they do not bear an official seal. A starting point requesting a certified copy of a birth certificate for persons born in the United States is contacting the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the state of birth.
- Persons born outside the U.S.: Persons who were born outside of the U.S. to a U.S. citizen parent can request a copy of their birth certificate or apply for U.S. citizenship by completing Form FS-240 (Consular Report of Birth Abroad) or Form N-600 (Application for Certificate of Citizenship). Birth certificates that are issued by foreign countries must be translated in English, and a Certificate of Accurate Translation must be included.
Military Identification Proof of Identity
Military identification cards are issued to certain members of the military as well as their eligible dependents. Active-duty military members, reservists and military retirees receive military ID cards in the form of DD Form 2 or DD Form 2A. Military discharge papers (DD-214) are also proof of identity. Military ID cards include the categories of Active Duty, Guard/Reserve, Retiree, Former Military and Military Dependent.
To be eligible for an active-duty military ID, service members and their eligible dependents must be in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) computerized database. Military dependents include spouses, un-remarried surviving spouses, children, dependent parents (and dependent in-laws) and certain other qualifying persons. Guard/Reserve card carriers also include the Inactive Ready Reserves (IRR), and retiree card carriers generally include those who served 20 years in the active military, Guard or Reserves, and medically retired service members. Former military includes certain veterans such as Medal of Honor recipients and veterans who are 100 percent disabled.
A veteran’s ID card, however, is not considered a “military card.” It does serve some important functions, such as securing military discounts and veterans’ benefits, but it’s not used as proof of identity. A veteran’s ID card does not permit access to military bases.
The Problem of Identity Theft
With the rampant spread of identity theft and identity fraud, particularly across digital platforms, proof of identity sometimes masquerades as stolen identity. With a few clicks online, experienced identity thieves can steal funds from bank accounts, open credit card accounts, transfer the victim’s funds to other accounts and obtain approval for loans, among other crimes.
Identity thieves often purchase stolen information for a rock-bottom price, sometimes on the dark web for as little as 50 cents each, according to Special Agent Marcus Brackman of the FBI. But the damage it causes to a victim far exceeds 50 cents. Beyond the financial loss, identity theft also elevates the victim’s stress level and impacts her daily schedule because of the time it takes to report the crime and repair the damage caused to a credit report, bank accounts and financial standing.
Data Used by Identity Thieves
Thieves steal identity-related data for financial gain. Other than using their victim’s names, identity thieves also steal their victims’ addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, Medicare numbers, passport numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, birth certificates and death certificates.
Identity thieves can also use a child’s Social Security number to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards and loans, establish a utility account, and even rent a home or apartment. Other than child identity theft, thieves also commit medical identity theft by using a victim’s health insurance number to make doctor’s appointments, file insurance claims and get prescription drugs.
The FBI, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Justice are some of the governmental agencies that help victims of identity theft. Some of their recommendations include:
- Shredding all documents with personal information, including pre-approved applications for credit cards, before discarding them.
- Declining to respond to emails that ask for any personal information.
- Using strong passwords for all online accounts.
- Leaving a Social Security card at home instead of carrying it in a wallet.
Reporting Identity Theft
The Federal Trade Commission urges consumers to report identity theft using these four steps:
- Contact any company, agency or institution affected by the theft of a person’s identity, including banks, credit card companies and place of employment.
- Obtain copies of credit reports and place fraud alerts with credit report companies.
- Report identity theft to the FTC.
- File a report with the local law enforcement agency such as the police or sheriff’s department.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Proof of U.S. Citizenship and Identification When Applying for a Job
- U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs: Apply for a Passport Card
- Tennessee Department of Homeland Security: Acceptable Primary and Secondary Identification
- ID.me: What is a Primary or Secondary Identification Document?
- National Network For Youth: A State-by-State Guide for Obtaining ID Cards
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: 13.0 Acceptable Documents for Verifying Employment Authorization and Identity
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Glossary of Terms
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security: REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions for the Public
- The Military Wallet: How to Get a Military ID Card
- FBI News: A Thief by Many Names
- The United States Department of Justice: Identity Theft
- FBI: Identity Theft
- Federal Trade Commission: Identity Theft
- Federal Trade Commission: Child Identity Theft
- Federal Trade Commission: Medical Identity Theft