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Mission Critical: U.S. Department of State ID Cards

diplomatic ID cards
diplomatic ID cards

U.S. Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions Issued Cards

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) issues several forms of identification to members of the diplomatic community, such as driver’s licenses, non-driver ID cards, mission tax exemption cards, and personal tax exemption cards. As of 2011, these cards have changed from their previous format, incorporating graphic imagery and other identification details designed to deter fraudulent reproductions and use. For specific security features, see the Federal Section of the "U.S. Identification Manual" at

For retailers seeking to prevent card fraud, being presented with these IDs can be a thorny issue for their employees. The cards not only provide identity verification, they also carry certain privileges and exemptions, making precise identification of each card’s veracity and rights conferred essential to efficient acceptance of them. Take for example the Mission Tax Exemption Card. This card exempts holders from occupancy, restaurant/meal, sales and other taxes and is unrestricted in connection with official purchases. In many ways, fraud detection is similar to a driver’s license check. The card has an owl in the right corner, helping to make fake ID detection easy. Another similarly designed card confers similar rights, but limits them in their degree. This card has a different animal on it.

Another card that can be presented by diplomatic personnel is the Personal Tax Exemption Card. This card is like the Mission Tax Exemption Card, allowing the same exemptions for any similar purchases made for strictly personal use. Like the alternatively limited Mission Tax Exemption Card, this card has a version that only allows a degree of exemption from the taxes of occupancy, restaurant/meal, sales and other taxes, in connection with purchases made for personal use.

U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol Issued Cards

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol issues the Diplomatic Identification Card, the Official Identification Card, and the Consular Identification Card to members of consular and foreign diplomatic missions, and usually their family and personnel. The recent scandal ignited when an Indian diplomat was arrested and strip searched in the U.S. resulted in a heated backlash from India, which included the demand that all U.S. Consular Staff in India surrender their identity cards to the Indian government.

Best Practices for Retailers Checking U.S. Department of State Issued Diplomatic IDs

These cards were redesigned to deter counterfeiting by making key improvements: the addition of animals (an owl, eagle, buffalo, and deer), instead of the old the blue or yellow stripes used by previous tax cards. In addition to verifying the validity of these cards when presented, retailers must also keep invoices or some form of documentary evidence of sale to support any deduction they wish to claim on excise tax returns for sales to foreign diplomats. The name of the purchaser, name of the mission, tax exemption number, expiration date of the card, and minimum level of exemption specified on the card, must be included on the invoice.

The I.D. Checking Guide shows the images and security and identification details and the U.S. Identification Manual, goes into more specific detail about the exact detail of each security feature, how to check it, what you see under UV light, and so on. Together, these guides provide retailers with the most comprehensive tools for ensuring that Diplomatic IDs are properly and efficiently verified.

The author of this article has worked in the IT security industry for a number of years and an expert in fraud prevention. Sources for this article can be found at

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