Fake IDs: How hard is it?
The recent bust of a fake ID ring where over $2 million was found in a house on Rugby Road brought attention to a lucrative criminal enterprise with high demand, particularly in a college town. So how hard is it to produce what law enforcement described as "high-quality false identification"?
Not very, apparently.
"What is problematic is the level of sophistication in some of the IDs we see," says David Huff, senior special agent with Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. "Before, even with minimal training, an officer could tell the fakes." Now, he says, they almost have to put them side by side to tell the difference.
Fake IDs, often called "novelty" items on the Internet, are incorporating images that only appear under ultraviolet light, says Huff. Sometimes the fakes will scan in bars that use scanners.
And if someone wants to produce an ID at home that will pass a cursory glance, all it takes is a printer and magnetically encoded card stock that many companies use for their own identification. "It's very easy to do, unfortunately," says Huff.
"True counterfeiting is difficult," says Robert Sherwood in Crozet, who's worked in holographic security and anti-counterfeiting for 25 years. "Simulation is about faking it for someone who doesn't care."
For example, putting rainbow holograms from China— or even mylar from Staples—on a fake ID is pretty easy, he says. "Everyone sees something rainbow and shiny, and they don't really look at it anymore."
It depends on who's looking at it and what you want to do with it, says Sherwood. "TSA agents are more educated than a bar bouncer." And although TSA people are looking for unique security features under ultraviolet light, "You can buy UV ink online," says Sherwood. "You can buy UV pens."
"Virginia has one of the most secure credentials in the country," says DMV spokesperson Pam Goheen. "I've yet to see a credible attempt at reproduction."
The license uses polycarbonate material, fine-line printing, and tactile features from raised lettering on the card. "The clear window is extremely difficult to reproduce," she says.
"We're seeing a lot of Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland and New York," says the ABC's Huff. "That's the current trend, not to say it won't change."
Another trend he's seeing as driver's licenses become harder to reproduce is alteration of an existing license or borrowing a license from someone older and similar looking. "It's one of the unintended consequences of how good our IDs are," says Huff.
Following the arrests of Alan McNeil Jones, Kelly McPhee, and Mark Bernardo, a search warrant inventory of the house at 920 Rugby Road listed driver's license card stock with state logo holograms.
"It's not without precedent for these items to be stolen from the DMV," says Huff.
They're also obtainable from China, and there are a lot of labs in the U.S. that can make holograms, says Sherwood.
Huff warns underage wannabe drinkers that if they're caught with a fake ID, it's better to 'fess up. Not owning up to a fake ID to a law enforcement officer is a Class 1 misdemeanor that's a "crime of fraud and crime of moral turpitude," Huff says. Confessing to a fake is still a Class 1 misdemeanor, but it's less likely to impede future background checks with a suggestion of willingness to lie or cheat.
Fake IDs might seem like a harmless youthful indiscretion, but in the post 9/11 world, says Huff, "You have to consider more nefarious things."
With all the effort put into keeping 19- and 20-year-olds from drinking and the cash incentives to market fake IDs to them, would the ABC's job be a lot easier if the drinking age were 18?
"That's a question for which intelligent people can have different opinions," says Huff. "My job is to enforce the law. I defer to the General Assembly."