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Duluth man wants to expand use of device that spots fake IDs

Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airport security technologies still are evolving. One new device, designed in Duluth and manufactured in Pequot Lakes, Minn., now is used in about 40 smaller airports in the country and would...

Win Erickson and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack
Win Erickson of Duluth (right) tells U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack about the Point of Sale Security Examiner. Erickson believes the device, which helps security personnel detect fake IDs, should be used in every airport in the country. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airport security technologies still are evolving.

One new device, designed in Duluth and manufactured in Pequot Lakes, Minn., now is used in about 40 smaller airports in the country and would be used in all of them if its creator had his way.

The "Point of Sale Security Examiner" -- POSSE for short -- helps security personnel detect fake identification cards. It does it by looking for security features such as holograms, fluorescent ink and tiny print incorporated into ID cards. It can evaluate cards in less than five seconds, and also works on currency, checks, money orders and credit cards.

Duluth resident Win Erickson, a former police officer and Secret Service agent, holds a patent on the unit and has been trying to get the Transportation Security Administration to purchase it on a widespread basis for at least five years.

"I don't know why the TSA hasn't mandated it for all its airports," he said. "It's a common-sense check, and no other machine does what it does."

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The POSSE unit uses a black light, back light and top light to detect fluorescence -- or the lack of it -- and translucent features like watermarks, cuts, tape, erasures or glue. It also lights up the document so it can be better examined for detail and magnification with a magnifying lens in the unit.

The POSSE works with software known as Docutector, an online database with samples of more than 1,100 driver's licenses from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and 160 other countries.

Currently, the TSA primarily uses black lights and magnifying loupes, in addition to extensive training, to verify passenger IDs and ensure they match boarding passes, said Carrie Harmon, TSA Regional Public Affairs manager. She confirmed, however, that some airports do use the POSSE units.

"The Point of Sale Security Examiner has been purchased at the local level at several individual airports to aid in this process," Harmon said. "At this time, TSA does not have plans to deploy this device at all airports."

Erickson said his device makes the airport security process easier and gives personnel more time to interact with a passenger, giving them more opportunity to notice any unusual behavior.

"There are levels of conversation -- a visit, an interview and an interrogation -- that could lead to an arrest," he said.

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., met with Erickson last month at Greystar Electronics in Duluth, which manufactures electronic cable, harness and circuit board assemblies for the aerospace and defense industries.

The company also installs the electronics on POSSE units.

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Greystar owner Mary Moldenhauer said if the TSA approved the device for all airports, she could hire more employees to meet the demand. The units would be fabricated in Pequot Lakes, creating more work there as well.

"People could be employed," she said. "Airports could be safer."

At the meeting, Erickson showed Cravaack how the unit works and used his congressional ID to test the system. He found out with the rest of the group that the congressional seal on the ID is only visible with black light.

Erickson said he hopes to have more discussions with Cravaack and others about his product.

"Cravaack has a tremendous amount of experience in the airline industry," Erickson said after the meeting. "He has an extremely thorough understanding of the issues of procedures and requirements. I have confidence in him, that if there's anything that can be done to move this matter along, he would be a tremendous spokesperson for it."

Moldenhauer said her company has helped Erickson modify the units and would like to see the product succeed.

"He has really put so much time and effort in this project -- he can't give up," she said.

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