SAN JUAN, April 20 (UPI) -- Puerto Rico will invalidate every birth certificate issued prior to this summer to curb rampant fraud and identity theft, authorities said.
Four million Puerto Rico residents and around 1.2 million Puerto Rican-born residents of U.S. states will have to apply for new documents to prove they legally exist and are eligible to apply for services ranging from U.S. passports to Medicaid benefits, ABC News reported Tuesday.
A crisis involving Puerto Rican birth certificates has ruined lives, overburdened social service programs and threatened national security, officials say.
U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department estimates indicate 40 percent of all U.S. passport fraud cases in recent years involved Puerto Rican birth certificates, ABC said.
"There are so many (Puerto Rican birth certificates) floating around and a lot fall into the hands of unscrupulous individuals," State Department spokeswoman Rosemary Macray said. "We've uncovered many cases of people posing as Puerto Ricans" in applying for U.S. passports.
Puerto Rican birth certificates, many bearing common Hispanic names, sell on the black market for thousands of dollars each, authorities say. And they are not in short supply.
"In Puerto Rico, you left a copy everywhere you went," said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., the most senior member of Congress who is of Puerto Rican descent.
Puerto Ricans regularly distribute original, certified copies of their birth documents with church offices, athletic team coaches or summer camp counselors as part of membership applications, ABC said.