It’s news to absolutely no one that underage teens drink alcohol and finding access to it is relatively easy for those who choose to seek it out. The tried and true methods that some of us may have utilized decades ago when we were minors are still effective today. Kids get alcohol from friends, older siblings and even parents – who either willingly hand it over themselves, or who don’t realize it’s being swiped from a home liquor cabinet.
“Shoulder tapping” is still a thing as well. Underage drinkers can usually find a stranger headed into a liquor or convenience store who is willing to buy alcohol for them, with or without a few dollars in cash to make it worth their while.
And anyone who’s ever been on the hunt for alcohol before they’ve turned 21, quickly learns the locations of certain stores that have clerks who rarely ask for ID or knowingly sell to minors. I can still picture the tiny, crowded liquor store on a corner in the Marina District of San Francisco, where my high school friends and I easily acquired our Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. (“…and thank you for your support.”)
But one underage method of accessing alcohol has changed quite a bit in the past decade. Obtaining a fake ID in the digital age is a whole new ballgame, and in our post 9/11 world, the consequences of being caught using one can come with some serious, criminal consequences.
Of course, there are still kids who illegally use legitimate forms of identification given to them by older siblings or friends with a strong resemblance, and those who alter a bit of the data on some form of ID of their own. But the “good” fakes these days are purchased online, mainly from counterfeit ID distributors based in China.
Today, most real driver’s licenses and state ID cards come with laser engraving and a magnetic strip on the back side, similar to a credit card. This makes it next to impossible for a student or other individual to create realistic fake IDs.
Manufacturers overseas who use specialized printers, have seized on the ease of online shopping. A customer is asked to use a money transfer service and route the purchase fee, usually around $50 to $100, to a bank account in Asia. These businesses typically offer a price discount for a larger order, so in many cases a group of friends go in together to order their fakes. Once the money transfer is complete, the IDs arrive in the mail within a couple of weeks, frequently stuck into the pages of a book.
With a fake ID in hand, teens may try to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, get into bars and clubs, or misrepresent their identity, which are all crimes in every state. Fake ID laws are state specific though, so punishments vary by jurisdiction, and according to HG.org Legal Resources, can range “from $500 misdemeanor fines in more lenient states up to felony convictions for impersonation or forgery and sentences of more than a year in prison. If the ID is used to purchase a firearm, it is a felony in every state and the sentences are usually several years.”
Bars and clubs that are in close proximity to college campuses are typically places that see a great number of fake IDs being used, and they generally employ bouncers who are trained and very skilled at recognizing fakes. When this happens, in most cases the bouncer will simply confiscate the ID card, and the user is now without it, and the $50 they paid to buy it.
However, some places hand over all the fakes they’ve collected that night to the police, and if the fake ID has an a legitimate name and photo, in addition to the fraudulent date of birth, the offender may be charged, lose their real driver’s license, pay a substantial fine, be assigned to a diversion program with community service, or even serve a short time in jail. If it’s a first arrest, jail time can usually be avoided and an attorney can be hired to get a misdemeanor charge reduced to an infraction, but there still will be the legal fees and court costs to pay.
Many college students are also not aware that if they are arrested while using a Fake ID, their school’s administration can bring down a punishment as well.
As an example, the Student Conduct Code at the University of Southern California lists these “Potential University Impacts” if a student is caught with a fake and prosecuted: removal from university housing, suspended parking privileges, not allowed to study abroad, dismissal from the university; and all organizations, clubs, or groups may be subjected to permanent or temporary removal of recognition and denial of the use of university facilities.
Few students also realize that being caught in a bar while under 21 can result in the business being charged a fine of several hundred dollars, and possibly losing their liquor license and being shut down for catering to juveniles. This can affect the livelihood of numerous employees, and some states even allow bars and liquor stores to bring civil damage lawsuits against minors who try to use a fake ID.
So, while it can be very tempting for some teenagers to purchase a fake ID, especially the 19 and 20-year-olds who want to hang out with older friends at over-21 venues, it can come at a cost that is much more significant than the small amount of money that they paid for the convenience.
As parents, we can encourage our kids to educate themselves on the state laws where they live and on their school’s policies regarding fake IDs.
When it seems like many people they know are getting away with doing this, kids under 21 think, “Getting caught will never happen to me.” But every now and then, a first-time offender is used as an example for others. Having a conviction on their record, even for just a short number of years, can undeniably affect future job opportunities.