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KYC Best Practices21 Nov 2023

How selfies and ID card photos can be used to verify identity

Gift Arku

Marketing Associate

Whether it’s a passport check to board a flight or a bank teller looking at your National ID Card before making a large withdrawal, matching an official government ID card to a face is one of the most common ways to verify someone’s identity. This method usually relies on personnel to be trained to spot fake IDs and to compare people's ageing and changing appearances. Even with proper training, people make mistakes, and individuals with false identification documents can often pass checks. 

Automated selfie and ID card verification is a powerful way to scale selfie and ID card matching and ensure more accurate results. It uses facial recognition technology, liveness, and ID card validity checks to compare a selfie to the photo on an ID card and ensure the document's legitimacy. 

This article will explain how simply asking a user to submit a selfie and ID card photo can be the most accurate way to verify a user's true identity and prevent fraud on your platform. 

What is a selfie verification? 

Selfie verification is a way to validate an individual’s identity using their face. This method compares a live capture (aka selfie) of the person to a known photo of them and ensures the facial features match. Comparing two photos can be a very reliable way of verifying a person’s identity, but to do so, you need two components:


  1. A live selfie of the individual you are trying to verify and
  2. An official photo of the person to compare against (usually an official photo on a government database or a photo ID document) 

Once you have collected these elements from the individual or a reliable source, a computer vision runs liveness checks to validate that the person is real. 

There are two types of liveness check: 

Passive Liveness Detection

This check runs over a single image and looks to identify possible signs of tampering. It looks for phone screens, photos of photos, cardboard cuts or any other background context clues that may give clues that a live person is not taking the photo at that moment.

Active Liveness Detection

Liveness detection is a technology computers use to detect whether it is viewing a live person when taking a selfie or a preexisting image like a printed photo or recorded video. This is often done by looking for subtle movements, such as blinking or smiling.

Many apps that leverage liveness detection capture a short video of the user during the face-checking process or grab a quick succession of shots while the user performs a specific motion or gesture in front of the camera. Then, the liveness detection algorithm processes the image or video with specialised computer vision to determine if an actual human was present during capture rather than being the result of artificial production.

Pairing selfie verification with an ID card check

One of the most common photo comparisons is a selfie to a government-issued photo ID card. When comparing a selfie to an official photo ID document, it is essential to verify the legitimacy of that document. If the ID card is fake, it can’t be used to confirm the user's true identity, as that is the source of truth you match the face against. Accurate and secure document verification comprises several checks to ensure that the ID document is authentic and valid, including: 

1. Document Authenticity Check: 

The first thing that is usually checked is that the document presented is the correct ID document type and that it matches 

3. Security Feature Validation: 

This is done by checking for features such as watermarks, holograms, and raised text to ensure they are consistent with an authentic ID document. If there are barcodes on the document, the computer can also read those for verification. 

4. Textual Accuracy Check: 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) extracts the document's text so the computer (or a human reviewer) can check for inaccuracies. The text will be checked for expiration dates, spelling mistakes, and ID number formats to ensure there are no inconsistencies in the document that may point to fraud.  

Combined, a verification selfie with an ID card is a particularly effective way to confirm a person’s true identity and detect fraud.

Smile ID's Document verification solution empowers businesses to seamlessly conduct this check with 99.8% accuracy. Book a free demo today to learn more.

Challenges with selfie and ID card verification in Africa

i. Biased Algorithms 

Africa is incredibly diverse, with many ethnicities, skin tones, and facial features. Many facial recognition algorithms have been primarily trained on datasets not representative of this diversity, leading to potential biases and inaccuracies, especially for individuals with darker skin tones.

ii. Infrastructure and Connectivity

In many parts of Africa, there are challenges related to inadequate internet connectivity and technological infrastructure. Facial recognition systems often require a robust technological infrastructure for real-time processing, which may not be readily available in some regions.

iii. Data Privacy Concerns 

There are concerns about privacy and data protection laws in many African countries. The implementation of facial recognition systems raises questions about how personal data is collected, stored, and used and the legal frameworks in place to protect individuals' privacy.

Benefits of using Selfie and ID Card Verification

Despite some of its challenges, verification with a selfie and ID card still offers several benefits for businesses trying to prove people’s identity accurately.

a. User-friendly verification 

Selfie and ID card verification can help businesses improve the customer experience by making it easier and faster for customers to verify identities. All they need to do is take a selfie and upload a photo of their government-issued ID card. This can be done from anywhere worldwide, using a smartphone or tablet.

OCR can be used to acquire personal information without typing and often more accurately than a person can type their information in. 

b. Meets regulatory compliance requirements 

Many AML regulations require not only to perform an identity check on an individual but also to store a copy of the individual’s photo ID. Performing a selfie and ID card verification meets this requirement without any additional steps for your users. 

c. Enhanced security and fraud detection

The combination of a selfie with an ID card adds an extra layer of security compared to traditional methods like looking up ID numbers only without any photo support. Using a selfie and ID card for user verification can catch up to 50% more fraud than text-based verification.  The process can be achieved using an enhanced document verification solution. Book a free demo to see how it works.

Digitally verifying documents and matching them to users is considered less error-prone than using humans to screen for fraudulent IDs, especially humans not trained to spot signs of tampering. 


How Smile ID is using selfie and ID card verification to help African startups detect and mitigate identity fraud

We have implemented numerous measures to tackle the abovementioned challenges, ensuring our products are more effective for the African-based end users.

1. Connectivity Optimizations: 

Smile Identity solutions are optimised for low bandwidth environments, high latency, and flaky connections. By enabling multiple retries in case of network failures and reducing image size, we optimise our services for challenging conditions. Furthermore, our SDK continues to operate even without an internet connection. Therefore, the user can still capture images without the internet and will be submitted once the device is back online.

2. De-biased Algorithms: 

Smile ID's facial recognition system is specifically designed for African faces, having been trained on over 5 million African faces to ensure a high accuracy rate in real-time authentication​. We have a 99.8% matching accuracy rate on African faces of all skin tones. 

3. Top-tier Data Security: 

Smile ID employs enterprise-grade best practices to safeguard customer data, achieving both ISO 27001 Certification and SOC 2 Type 2 report against rigorous standards. Our comprehensive ISMS is built with the assistance of independent experts who validate our security, privacy, and compliance controls.

Book a free demo to learn more about our selfie and ID card verification solution.

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