Better tech makes fake IDs harder to detect
Ease of access to forgeries has prompted police to step up their enforcement efforts
Bouncers in Campustown are veterans at spotting fake IDs.
They know the signs — the logo isn't quite right, the color is off, the card just doesn't have the right feel.
But the job is getting tougher as technology improves and offshore suppliers peddle fake IDs over the Internet, police and bar owners say.
"It's amazing," said Kam's owner Eric Meyer. "They have taken it to a new level."
It used to be that students would borrow an ID from an older sibling or friend who vaguely resembled them. As technology got cheaper, students could produce fake IDs in dorm rooms with a computer, printer, laminating machine and a few blank cards.
Now, "kids can get on some fake ID website, send in money and a picture and get it in two weeks," said Champaign Police Sgt. Joe Ketchem, who manages the department's alcohol enforcement unit.
That ease of access has brought an upsurge in fake IDs over the last two or three years, some officials say, and police have stepped up their enforcement efforts in response.
"We've turned over as many as 50 IDs a week," Meyer said.
Some of those are "misused" IDs, real licenses borrowed by an underage drinker from a brother, friend or alumnus. Ketchem has a box full of those in his office, roughly 2,000, from the last two years. But he also has a stack of fakes, from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, even Montana and Arizona.
The state has tried to stay one step ahead of the forgers by embedding more than a dozen security features in Illinois driver's licenses and ID cards. There's a hologram of the state seal, features seen only in ultraviolet light (blacklight), microtext visible only with a magnifying glass, and a "laser retrievable" element.
If you shine a laser pen at a certain spot on the card, the letter "I" will "levitate up against the wall," said Henry Haupt, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office. "As you might imagine, a feature of that nature would be extremely difficult to reproduce fraudulently."
One goal of the security features is to design something that is technologically sound but also user-friendly for business owners, he said.
Through its "Operation Straight ID" program, the state works with local police to teach bar owners and businesses how to spot the fakes, Haupt said.
"To the naked eye, they maybe wouldn't look that bad," Haupt said. "A professional should be able to tell the difference."
But the fakes have gotten better, too. Some even have holograms and UV symbols.
Still, Ketchem said, "They can't quite get everything right."
The font is usually off. The fake cards are thinner. The photos have obviously been trimmed with a knife before being reproduced. Some holograms say "genuine authentic and real" instead of the state motto.
"Sometimes the card isn't rigid enough. The photo may be bigger than usual. Sometimes they don't use a real state logo, or the edges are marred or smudged," Meyer said.
Many of the fakes come from websites based outside the United States, including China, making enforcement difficult, officials say.
In 2011, U.S. Customs seized packages at O'Hare Airport containing fake driver's licenses from a Chinese Internet company called IDChief.com. The cards had been ordered by college students. A joint sting operation with the U.S. Postal Service and Secretary of State Police resulted in a dozen arrests; the students were charged with attempted unlawful possession of a fraudulent identification card, which carries a fine of up to $500 or 50 hours of community service and possible one-year suspension of driving privileges.
In another case, a package from Hong Kong containing sophisticated holograms of three different states, including Illinois, was seized by U.S. Customs. The Secretary of State Police worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to arrest two people on felony charges related to fraudulent identification cards.
IDChief.com was shut down, but other websites soon popped up to replace it, Ketchem said.
The website reallygoodfakes.com offers ID cards for numerous states, including Illinois, for $150 apiece (or less with volume discounts). It boasts that its cards have "high resolution printing, fully scannable 2d bar code, UV/Blacklight, identical feel," and offers "100 percent secure offshore servers" and "discreet priority USPS shipping."
"Yes we're 100% real, and no we're not a scam," the website says.
It shows examples of its products, including an Illinois ID with a hologram and what looks like a photo of a young Woody Harrelson.
"Our fakes replicate the actual ID about 80-90% spot on, and could most likely pass in state," the site says. "These are hand made to the T, and perfected every single time. You will be paying for a high quality fake."
A video space on the site reads only: "This video has been removed as a violation of YouTube's policy on depiction of harmful activities."
Police have uncovered some local ID-making operations in recent years, including a 19-year-old UI student convicted in 2013 of unlawful use of identification after officers found blank ID cards, clear state of Illinois seals and syringes for filling printer ink cartridges in his dorm room. He was sentenced to two weeks in jail and paid $3,400 in fines and court costs.
"If they're manufactured locally, we absolutely go after them," Clark said.
Other cases are referred to the FBI or another federal agency, he said. Secretary of State Jesse White established the Safe ID Task Force, with representatives from his office, local police, other state agencies, the U.S. Department of State, Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Postal Service, Haupt said.
"People all over the world are able to try to produce fake IDs. All the more reason for Illinois ... to continue to train and educate people on how to spot them," Haupt said.
A trained eye
The city requires all bar managers and security personnel to take its Bar Employee Security Training and encourages bartenders and servers to go through its TIPS program — Training for Intervention Procedures — which is required by most Campustown bars, Clark said.
Every bar is given a booklet, the "I.D. Checking guide," with licenses from every state and Canada.
"Certain states are more popular than others," Ketchem said, including those neighboring Illinois. "We tell people, if you see something from Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, be real leery."
Police also conduct fake ID details, where an officer will sit with a bouncer at the door or even check IDs himself undercover. Three details in 2013 led to 18 citations, Clark said.
And Champaign police are following up more, in part because it's gotten easier, Clark said. Many students use their real names, or some variant, on the fake licenses so they can back them up with their credit cards or I-card as a second form of ID, he said.
Police can search for their name on a university directory, Facebook or Twitter, or even match the photo. The Secretary of State also has facial recognition software if police can't find them another way, Ketchem said.
Those efforts led to 83 city ordinance violations in 2013, which carry a $330 fine, police said. The fake licenses are sent to the Secretary of State's office, which can suspend a students' license for up to a year, Ketchem said.
The number of disciplinary cases involving fake IDs at the UI grew from 37 in 2010-11 to 181 in 2012-13, said Associate Dean Brian Farber, director of student conflict resolution.
The sanction depends on the circumstance, but typically students will get a university censure, a step above a reprimand, for a first violation, as there is some premeditation involved, Farber said. They may also have to attend a seminar on ethical decision-making or write about respecting community standards. Students can be referred for counseling if serious alcohol problems are found.
Repeat offenders can receive more sanctions — conduct probation, suspension or dismissal — but that's rare, Farber said. Usually one time through the system is enough. After losing their license, paying court fees and fines, "they very often will say, I'm done with that," he said.
"Our goal is to try to correct a behavior, and not kick a bunch of students out of the university," he said.
Fake ID incidents on the rise
The UI's student discipline system handles hundreds of cases each year involving underage drinking or related offenses. The number of fake ID incidents has doubled each of the past two years:
|Alcohol consumption or possession by a minor||763||718||603|
|Distribution of alcohol||47||45||17|