Meet the expert: Onfido's Michael Van Gestel


A big misconception is that ID fraud is hard to commit. In reality it is very easy to obtain or create passable fake documents that will fool human reviewers.

Michael Van Gestel, Document Fraud Specialist

We caught up with Michael Van Gestel, Onfido’s document fraud specialist. Download our PDF or read below to find out why companies should be using electronic identity verification and why neither computers nor humans alone are the answer.

Global identity verification provider, Onfido, is setting the new identity standard for the internet. Their AI based technology assesses whether a user’s government-issued ID is genuine or fraudulent, and then compares it against facial biometrics. They are trusted by over 1,500 companies, including Thirdfort, to provide safer onboarding and a smoother customer journey.

Michael Van Gestel is Onfido’s Identity Document Fraud Consultant.  

Thirdfort: how did someone with your experience and skill set end up working at Onfido? I assume it's very different to working with immigration offices?

Michael: I’ve been working in physical ID verification for years and technology has played an increasingly huge part.From scanning chips inside passports to automated border control, a large portion of ID checking is done with machines, so bringing my skills to a tech firm was the obvious step. Tech is the future of ID verification, especially when considering how users interact with services online today, but also where major new threats are coming from.

How hard is it really to spot a fake ID, do you need to be an expert?What should you be looking for? 

I have spent many years doing it and even I am puzzled sometimes by high quality fakes. There is a huge breadth of quality when it comes to the types of fraud. Some of them are easy to check at a glance if you are familiar with the specimen document and general manufacturing techniques. Others, require extensive analysis such as ID made by rings of organised criminals that produce very believable IDs. There are a few such rings we identified by performing long, in depth analysis. When inspecting an ID you should be looking for any differences compared to the relevant specimen document - in particular printing techniques, fonts, security features and landmarks. When performing a physical examination you can leverage covert and forensic features such as watermarks, UV response and substrates composition. 

How does electronic ID checking actually work and why is Onfido’s technology industry leading? Most importantly, does it work?

Electronic ID checking can be done using AI and machine learning to check documents or using manual human analysts that sit at computers reviewing documents. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Onfido is unique. We use a hybrid approach to leverage the best of both. When we ask the question ‘does it work?’ we need to consider what method it is being compared to. Our solution consistently performs better than the untrained human eye and often is equal to or better than a trained official. Anything made by a human can be fooled by another human so the accuracy can never be 100%. We work together with our clients to identify vulnerabilities and continuously improve our performance.

What is the biggest misconception about identity fraud and electronic ID checking solutions?

The main challenge both in the industry and outside it is reliance on a single system, be that manual or automatic. In reality 1+1=3. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. Another big misconception is that ID fraud is hard to commit. In reality it is very easy to obtain or create passable fake documents that will fool human reviewers. Even at an airport, if you buy a business class ticket it can be possible to intimidate the officer into letting you through.Fraud is usually about finding the path of least resistance. That’s why industries where staff have not had any training or lack comprehensive processes, such as law and finance, are targeted by fraudsters for a low-risk high-reward return scam.

To find out how you can use digital ID verification for safer client onboarding and improved customer experience, please get in touch at [email protected]

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