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Fraudulent use of captain’s license under investigation

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A U.S. captain received a phone call this summer by a man who admitted to copying his license and putting his own name on it for employment in the yachting industry. The captain thinks it might have been used for possibly as long as three years.


“Stealing a captain’s license is a little like taking a pilot’s license and flying a plane,” said the captain, who asked not to be identified while a U.S. Coast Guard investigation is pending.


The captain’s U.S. Merchant Mariner credential was allegedly photocopied without permission and retouched to reflect the name of an unlicensed person working in the yachting industry. The counterfeit was discovered when a crew agent checked the serial number of the paper and discovered the name did not match the one on record with the USCG National Maritime Center’s Web site.


The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that nearly 9 million Americans have pieces of their identities stolen each year. And the yachting community is not immune.


“I believe we must get more vigilant, especially with yacht positions of higher responsibility,” Linda Leathart of Nautic Crew International, said.


In yachting, the victim usually does not know their information has been compromised until an incident, such as an accident or insurance claim. Often, inconsistencies with credentials are found during the hiring process because captains usually require copies of original certificates for their files, Leathart said, and crew agents usually request to see them before they offer a candidate for hire. 


If false credentials aren’t discovered then, they often come to light when new crew do not perform to expected standards, she said.


“We got a new database because the old one couldn’t upload a sufficient amount of certificates,” Leathart said. “Now people can upload and we can verify their information.”


But agents don’t share such documents until the stage of hiring where the employer needs to see them. Leathart said she is well aware of the value of the actual documents and maintains security.


Employers and mariners can check the status of credentials on the USCG National Maritime Center’s Web site. Validity, expiration dates, descriptions and limitations are listed. But even the USCG Web site states “Employers: It is recommended you visually verify original credentials before offering employment based on this report.”


Although the information on the Coast Guard site may show a valid license, it may not show a breech of personal information as in this case, said the captain whose license has been copied. After learning of the fraudulent use of his ticket, he checked with the USCG site but saw no discrepancies because the counterfeit was only on paper.


“The real issue is your personal information,” the captain said. “It’s like someone filling out a credit card application and putting their address. They use the card and pay the bill and you never know.”


Captains working under a valid license are required to carry the original when under way. The previous type was a paper document that could be more easily copied and forged. Since 2009, however, the USCG began replacing the paper certificate license with a passport-style booklet, which may prove more difficult to counterfeit.


And it’s not just merchant mariner certificates that are at issue. Media also reports many instances of fraudulent Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards, which are legally required to serve under the authority of a U.S. Merchant Mariner credential.


A falsified merchant marine credential or similar document like a TWIC card should be reported to the local governing body. In the case of mariners in the United States, the USCG marine sector officer of the license holder. 


A spokesperson at the USCG said in known cases in which a license has been compromised, mariners should call the USCG with the reference number of the licence or send a written statement explaining details. The USCG will render the compromised license number invalid and re-issue credentials to the valid mariner.


“I’m a law-abiding citizen and have worked hard for my ticket,” said the captain whose license was copied. “And someone else was reaping the rewards.”


To verify U.S. mariner credentials, visit the National Maritime Center at www.uscg.mil/nmc and search for “Credential Verification”, e-mail iasknmc@uscg.mil or call 1-888-IASKNMC.

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