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Fake ID business booms in Los Angeles

The Federal Trade Commission says identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country — and Los Angeles is the counterfeit document capital. NBC's George Lewis reports.

The Federal Trade Commission says identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country. The thieves often use phony Social Security numbers belonging to innocent citizens — and do it with the greatest of ease.

Undercover video, shot by agents of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, was used to help convict a man of forging Social Security cards and other government IDs.

It’s a practice that often victimizes innocent people, like 2-year-old Tyler Lybbert of Draper, Utah.  She doesn't understand that she's got some serious credit problems.

"She's basically got two loans out on her Social Security number and, I believe, a credit card out," says Tyler’s mother, Camber Lybbert. "She's got $15,000 in debt."

How could that happen?

It happened because someone else was using a Social Security number identical to Tyler's. It's part of a mushrooming problem in America involving criminals who make and sell phony documents.

Kevin Jeffery, a special agent with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, says computers make it easy for the forgers.

"The document vendors themselves, they just make up random numbers," Jeffrey says. "To do this would take maybe about two minutes, tops."

Jeffery says Los Angeles, with its huge population of illegal immigrants, is the counterfeit document capital of America.

NBC News asked an employee of its Spanish language sister network, Telemundo, to walk through Los Angeles' MacArthur Park, where he was approached four times in 30 minutes by document vendors.

"They told me I can get everything from IDs to permanent resident cards, or green cards, Social Security numbers," he says. "They have everything."

Back in Utah, after the NBC station in Salt Lake City reported on the theft of Tyler Lybbert's identity, authorities arrested a suspect. Jose Tinoco was charged with identity fraud and forgery.

But in spite of the efforts to crack down, officials warn that the ID theft business is booming.