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Puerto Rico's New Birth Certificate Law: Protecting Identities and Combating Fraud

By Kenneth McClintock, Secretary of State of Puerto Rico (March 18, 2010)

 

Ten thousand dollars. That was the rough black market value of Puerto Rico birth certificates, until recently a hot commodity for being stolen, sold and used to illegally obtain U.S. passports, Social Security benefits, licenses, and other federal services. That dollar figure doesn't even touch the turmoil and financial strain identity fraud can inflict on the victim.

 

Why Puerto Rico birth certificates? Two reasons. In the past, many common official and unofficial transactions in Puerto Rico unnecessarily required the submission, retention, and storage of birth certificates, whether it be registering for school, joining little leagues, or participating in Church activities.

Kenneth McClintock

 

It was not unheard of for a typical resident in Puerto Rico to present approximately 15 certified copies of their birth certificate to different entities over the years. As a result, hundreds of thousands of original birth certificates were stored without adequate protection, making them easy targets for theft.

 

And the second reason: the common Hispanic names of most individuals born in Puerto Rico made these birth certificates highly desirable on the black market and left Puerto Rico-born U.S. citizens especially vulnerable to identity theft, ruined credit, stolen federal benefits, and increased security checks at airports.

 

But that cycle of fraud is changing, thanks to a new law enacted by the government of Puerto Rico to strengthen the issuance and usage of birth certificates to better protect the identity and credit of all people born in Puerto Rico. Under the law, new Puerto Rico birth certificates will be issued starting July 1, 2010. Until that date, all current birth certificates will remain valid.

 

The new law also establishes that no public or private entity within the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico may retain an original copy of a Puerto Rico issued birth certificate. Local agencies in Puerto Rico, as well as private employers, may request to inspect birth certificates and even copy them, but cannot retain the original under any circumstance.

 

The new law (Law 191 of 2009) was based on collaborations with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to address fraud and national security concerns. In one example, approximately 40 percent of the passport fraud cases investigated by the U.S. DOS Diplomatic Security Services in recent years involved Puerto Rico birth certificates.

 

There is no need for those born in Puerto Rico to rush out and get a new birth certificate on July 1. Only people who have a specific need for their birth certificate for official purposes need to request a new one right away. Those who want to obtain a copy for their records are encouraged to do so at a later date to prevent an unnecessary rush of applications.

 

Those who are Puerto Rican-born living in the states can obtain the new certificate by mail starting July 1, 2010. The fee is $5, but will be waived for people over 60 and veterans. The new birth certificates will be issued through the Puerto Rico Health Department's Vital Statistics office.

 

For more information, go to www.prfaa.com/birthcertificates or www.prfaa.com/certificadosdenacimiento.

 

Editors Note: Kenneth D. McClintock-Hernndez is the Secretary of State of Puerto Rico. As Secretary of State, he serves as the territory's Lieutenant Governor. He served as co-chair of Hillary Clinton presidential campaign's National Hispanic Leadership Council in 2008, co-chaired her successful Puerto Rico primary campaign that year and served as the Thirteenth President of the Senate of Puerto Rico until his term ended on December 31, 2008.

 

 
 

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