Our Community

Guardians in Training: Stamp of Approval

Training ICA officers to detect cases of passport forgery.
PHOTO: Jade Tan

Working with passports at the Identity Authentication and Documents Analysis (IADA) Branch, Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Candice Sin knows the stereotypes about the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) well, particularly how ICA officers are perceived as "passport-stampers".

“It’s not true,” ASP Candice says with a grin. “There’s a lot of sense-making that goes into our work, because when we apply the stamp, we’re granting travellers entry into Singapore. We need to ensure they are here for legitimate reasons.”

Security, with Expertise
A passport is a figurative key to entering a country, and to frontline ICA officers at our air, land and sea checkpoints, there’s an art to examining these documents. From educating ICA officers on examination techniques to conducting research into new forms of forgery, this art is the focus of the five-member IADA team. 

Dropping into one of ASP Candice’s classes, we saw ICA officers of different ranks patiently listening as she picked apart various passport watermarks and explained the difference between single and multi-tone examples. Later, in the forgery lair, using common objects like glue and ultraviolet ink, she demonstrated forgery methods that simulated security features commonly found in passports.

ASP Candice’s classes train ICA officers to quickly discern between legitimate documents and forgeries. “As trainers, we get to shape mindsets and to influence the way they examine passports,” she says. PHOTOS: Home Team News

New Horizons at the Border
Despite her domain expertise, being an ICA officer wasn’t what ASP Candice first planned for. As a fresh Chemistry graduate from the National University of Singapore, she’d originally joined a tech firm in the private sector as a Laboratory Technologist, hoping to undertake exploration in her field. But frustrated by the job’s restrictions, she sought a job with a greater sense of personal purpose.

She applied to be an ICA officer, and after three years at Woodlands Checkpoint as a Team Leader, she joined IADA. ASP Candice’s new role allowed her to integrate her sense of purpose with her Chemistry expertise, as the team began to integrate forensic disciplines and Materials Science into its existing inspection protocols. This change allowed her team to delve into, detect and uncover new forms of passport forgery. 

On Crafty Fakes
When it comes to forgeries, most cases tend to involve the altering of authentic documents rather than recreations of full-fledged copies. Sometimes such reproductions are so poorly made that detection is almost immediate. “We wonder why they even bothered trying,” notes ASP Candice. 

Other attempts, though, are more sophisticated. The team occasionally runs into particularly ingenious attempts that challenge their capabilities. ASP Candice recalls a case three years ago when forgers managed to substitute a passport’s photograph without any damage to the polycarbonate biodata page. This baffled the team, since the biodata page was usually fully integrated with the material itself.

As passports become increasingly sophisticated, being able to think like a perpetrator becomes important when investigating new forgery methods. PHOTO: Janani Sivalingam

Although the fake was successfully detected, the team is still studying the forgery to uncover its secrets. Such challenges drive Candice and her team to greater heights. To ensure that Singapore’s detection technology and methods stay in step with the world, ASP Candice regularly attends international conferences to catch up on the latest innovations in authentication. 

“What was mind-blowing was that they had established labs for forensic document examination,” she recalls about her recent trip to Portugal where she attended a conference with the European Document Experts Working Group. “Their approach to forensic examination is definitely something that we want to learn from and bring to Singapore.” 

Now and Then

Reflecting on her career, ASP Candice admitted that as a trainer, she has fewer operational duties compared to her trainees who work at the frontline at our checkpoints. But in exchange, she feels an immense sense of pride whenever any of her trainees achieve success, whether by uncovering fake passports or detecting travelers who pose immigration or security risks to the country. 

Asked what advice she has for those considering a career switch like hers, she says, “Some people will prefer the private sector, but in the end, it’s really about asking yourself what you want out of your work, and knowing what purpose you want to achieve. As an ICA officer, I think we’re in a privileged position to keep our borders secure.”

Written by

Soo Jun Xiang


13 August 2019

Related Articles