Do US Visa Documents Have A Typo?

from the time-to-change-the-fraud-prevention dept

Our friends over at the always excellent Notcot were recently playing around with a microscope and noticed what certainly appears to be a typo on the US visa and border crossing card. The back of the card has very tiny etchings of every US president and every state flag -- but the etching of 6th US president John Quincy Adams appears to have a typo, calling him John Quincy Adames with an "e" added into the last name. Take a look:


That seems like a pretty big mistake. However, some are suggesting that it was done on purpose. In the comments to the Notcot post, two specific theories are presented: the first is that JQA changed his last name to distinguish himself from his father. Doing some quick searches around various bios of Adams, however, shows absolutely no support for this one. Even the White House's own page on JQA spells it Adams and makes no mention of such a change.

The other explanation makes a lot more sense. It's that this is a form of fraud/counterfeiting detection. Similar to how dictionaries would sometimes insert a fake word or phone books would insert fake people/numbers to try to "catch" if anyone was copying their work, perhaps the US government added the extra "e" on the assumption that counterfeiters would actually spell JQA's name correctly -- thus giving them a way to spot a fake. Of course, that's a pretty weak form of anti-counterfeiting, but in combination with some other techniques, perhaps it's useful. Either way, it's an amusing bit of trivia...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:24am

    Occam's Razor says otherwise....

    The most likely reason is....

    Government Employee Incompetence.

     

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  2.  
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    rabbit, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    oh, mike, you make me laugh!

     

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  3.  
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    Edward Costello (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:40am

    Could also be a result of the US outsourcing the creation of certain visa and passport documents in 2007-2008 (not sure if it's still the case). Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    Re: Occam's Razor says otherwise....

    Like cats, the government will always address mistakes with that "I meant to do that" look. Only without the cute.

     

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  5.  
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    Rabbit80, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:49am

    You stole my name...

    I feel violated - where do I send the cease and desist?

    /Sarcasm

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:52am

    Give them a break!

    Oh Mike, give them a break. The design of the Visa documents were probably outsourced. Besides, you're in on the ground floor, Mike. These documents will be valuable by Chinese Collectors in 50 years when the US ceases to exist as a nation. Lack of pride in gooder spellings and grammars increases collectability. If you need examples, look at the what error notes are going for.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:52am

    Re: You stole my name...

    *hops*

    "i meant to do that" look. only with the cute.

     

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    tuna, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:54am

    The US did this to military IDs in WWII. The nazis forged them but always used the correct spelling thus being caught.

     

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    Andrew (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 10:56am

    I'm amazed you gave any time whatsoever to the "JQA renamed himself" comment. Why bother?

     

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    ofb2632 (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:01am

    sometimes its not worth paying the lowest bidding contractor do to the work.

     

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  11.  
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    matt, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:06am

    Texas Drivers Licenses

    The drivers licenses in Texas have the word "Directive" printed on the back. The first 'i' in directive is not dotted thus giving an added method of fraud detection. Sounds like they did something similar here.

     

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  12.  
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    Beta (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:07am

    He invented everything.

    Benjamin Franklin deliberately misspelled "Philadelphia" on some of the first American banknotes, specifically to trip up counterfeiters, and the sources I've read suggest that the idea was original with him (not too surprising for a genius, a printer and a rather irreverent man). But I'd be surprised if that trick would trip up anyone with the means to make microengravings at all.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:12am

    Re:

    maybe even if it is ineffective, it is an inside joke for anti-counterfeiting types.

     

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  14.  
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    Pangolin (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:26am

    Another possible reason...

    The visa form examined IS counterfeit.

     

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    jean/NOTCOT, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:31am

    anyone else have a border crossing/green card and microscope?

    after discovering adames while playing with the microscope, i'm more curious what is on the others, or newer versions... let's figure out if this is a consistent typo? or if someone else's name is a typo on others? :)

    we're all speculating about this, but there must be SO many more out there we can look at!

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 11:39am

    On the "anti-counterfeiting" side, Texas drivers licenses have things like that. A bit more discreet, like i's missing dots, or similar letters swapped. I still argue that a counterfeiter wouldn't go about fixing the mistakes he finds, but rather try to make an exact copy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 12:04pm

    Re:

    For sure. Americans make no mistakes. If it's wrong, certainly it was done by someone else.

     

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  18.  
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    interval (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 12:41pm

    I have a patent on micro-etchings of US Presidents and a copyright on spelling Adams with an 'e'. Expect the lawsuits...

     

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  19.  
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    Beau, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

    This is techdirt news?

     

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  20.  
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    Terry Hart (profile), Aug 20th, 2010 @ 12:46pm

    According to this article, Greek passports do the same thing.
    "To the naked eye, the holograms will look like simple lines, but they are actually words and phrases written in tiny letters which, Samaras explains, are an additional security feature because they may contain anagrams or deliberate spelling mistakes known to the authorities but not to forgers."

     

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  21.  
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    MissingFrame, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Re:

    ... or the Government, of course.

     

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  22.  
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    Mik, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 3:36pm

    The Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) has similar features on the back with the presidents, I'll have to look under a microscope and see if the president's name are spelled correctly or not.

     

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  23.  
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    Fente, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 8:18pm

    Different Typos

    It's possible different serial number sequences have different typos - though it doesn't make much sense why a typo ought be used when a different picture or other graphic detail coud be less obviously changed to ensure not only would a counterfitter have to copy imagery they'd have to know secret algorithms to match images to data.

    Much like currency matches secret hashes of numbers to details like dates of issue.

     

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  24.  
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    Ben (profile), Aug 21st, 2010 @ 1:00am

    Ruined

    If the 'anti-counterfeiting' reason is true, then you've just wrecked it as the counterfeiters now know about the error, and can adjust their versions appropriately. And you've taught them to look out for such tricks if they hadn't spotted one before!

    Nice one, Mike ;)

     

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  25.  
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    David (profile), Aug 21st, 2010 @ 1:30pm

    It's deliberate

    This is a standard anti-counterfeiting trick. Example: If you still have an old-style Visa credit card, take a look at the repeated word VISA in the micro-printing around the large Visa logo. There are two or three places where it's spelled VAIS (as I recall, there's one about three or four from the left in the third row). This was deliberate - I used to work for Visa, and there are other secrets about card design that I'm not going to divulge - the only reason I mention this one is because that design is now defunct. But, believe me, this is a routine form of fighting counterfeits.

     

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  26.  
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    Moe, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:08am

    USA Visa Typo

    It's not a typo. I worked for the Feds for many years. We could detect if a Social Security card was fraudulent if the columns on the card exactly met at the top. Real cards had a gap on the top right. The same with alien resident cards; the word "immigration" on the back of the card had several "i's" missing the dot on top. If a card had all the i's dotted, it was a fraud.

     

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  27.  
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    Bryan, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 9:36am

    Good One

    Good one, now you blew the planned fraud detection and everyone will be making fake cards with Adames on it!

     

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