NEWS

Fake ID makers perfecting their craft

Manufactured licenses becoming harder to detect, despite security measures

Iowa driver license. (Gazette file photo)
Iowa driver license. (Gazette file photo)

Fake IDs aren’t what they used to be.

Once crudely manufactured licenses only good enough to survive a cursory glance in a shadowy bar have been enhanced with today’s technology and now, in some cases, can even pass through digital scanning equipment.

“The IDs we are seeing are better,” said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton. “There has been an improvement in quality recently.”

Many of the higher-quality replicas being circulated today – including in college communities like Iowa City – are being produced overseas and peddled via the Internet. Companies, in some cases, can even replicate the holograms and PVC plastic on the cards.

Efforts to shut down operations producing counterfeit U.S. driver’s licenses are under way, and four senators – including Iowa’s Rep. Charles Grassley and Sen. Tom Harkin – recently wrote to China’s ambassador urging his government to take action against companies selling fake IDs.

China-based IDChief.com, fingered among the larger contributors, shut down its operations in August after receiving international attention.

But other websites continue to pedal the top-quality fakes, and Brotherton said it can be difficult to catch violators with near-flawless replicas by just looking.

“What we can do is call into the dispatchers and run them through whatever state (the license) has,” Brotherton said. “They will let us know if the licenses exist.”

Staff checking IDs at bar entrances – like those in Iowa City, which ban people younger than 21 from entering after 10 p.m. – can’t run everyone’s name and therefore have a more difficult time catching some of the better frauds.

“We’ve heard they’re getting them from websites, and they’re very high quality,” said Leah Cohen, owner of Bo-James. “They are not the IDs that they used to have and that are easy to detect.”

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division recently launched a new alcohol compliance training – the Iowa Program for Alcohol Compliance Training, or I-PACT – that educates bar staff on a variety of topics, including how to spot fake IDs.

Cohen said the training gives her bar and others like it a better shot at catching and keeping out underage patrons.

“But these new ones have the hologram and everything the same,” she said. “It’s concerning to everyone – you just don’t know. Some of these young college girls can look pretty old.”

The number of people arrested by the University of Iowa police for falsifying or unlawful use of IDs jumped to 89 in 2010 from 35 in 2009, according to annual statistics. The number fell to 60 last year, although that number was still higher than in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

David Visin, associate director of the UI Department of Public Safety, said arrest numbers can fluctuate without obvious explanation and that it’s always a priority to stop the use of fake IDs.

Kelly Bender, campus community harm reduction initiatives coordinator for the UI Division of Student Life, said that while she doesn’t track fake ID usage or arrests, the UI required all incoming freshman to participate in an alcohol-related survey in the fall 2011 semester.

Of the 4,710 students polled, only 3.4 percent said they had a fake ID and 3 percent said they intended to get one. In a random sample of 279 UI undergraduates in Spring 2012, 8.6 percent said they had a fake ID, according to the Off-Campus Party Study conducted by George Washington University.

The numbers are a bit higher when residential advisers are asked about the proliferation of fake IDs, according to Bender. Responding to a survey in June 2012, 30 percent of UI’s advisers said they thought their residents used fake IDs to buy alcohol.

“The student data we have found that fake ID usage is not as high as people perceive it to be,” Bender said. “But that doesn’t mean fake ID usage is not a concern.”

She said the perception is that the fake IDs have gotten better and that, she said, is not just a worry for underage drinking.“It’s a concern for national security,” Bender said, praising Grassley and Harkin for getting involved. “A higher level of intervention is really important.”

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