After waiting for more than an hour in line to enter the FYF Fest music festival, Kurt* ’15 headed straight for the restricted, 21-and-over beer garden. He approached the bouncer, pulled out his fake New York state identification card from his back pocket, and presented it. The bouncer examined the card under a flashlight and a magnifying glass, bending it a few times. He looked up at Kurt and said, “Sorry this is a fake. I’m going to need to take it.”
“I didn’t really feel like I was in a position to argue with him so I just let him take it, and I walked away,” Kurt said.
Kurt is not the only student who uses a fake ID. Of 364 students polled by the Chronicle, almost 11 percent of students said they have a fake ID. Even though it’s illegal, many of them don’t worry about the repercussions of owning one.
“I wouldn’t say I’m scared [of the consequences],” Lara* ’15 said. It’s more that I’m aware of them and conscious of my surroundings whenever I use it.”
Police officer and lawyer John Dewell believes that there has been an overall decrease in teen fake ID usage.
“One [reason] is with all the new security enhancements on the identifications they are harder and more expensive to make,” he said. “Another reason is the increase in the number of laws governing identity theft, which has also had an overlapping effect on the possession of fake IDs.”
According to California Penal Code Section, if students display or possess fake identification cards or driver licenses, they are violating the law. It does not matter if the fake ID card looks like it’s from another state. As long as the card appears to be government issued, it’s a violation of the law.
Depending on the situation, the prosecutor can decide whether to file the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor. If convicted as a misdemeanor, the offender may face one year in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine, but offenders convicted as felons may face one year in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine, but offenders convicted as felons may face 16 months in California state prison and a maximum $100,000 fine.
However, criminal lawyer and Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson (Solly Mirell ’06, Havi Mirell ’08, Dani Mirell ’17) said, if someone with a fake ID isn’t showing the false identification to a police officer or isn’t trying to buy alcohol, the violation is only an infraction. The violator faces a fine and community service but no prison time.
“Many of my friends have been caught with fakes and the worst that has happened is that they’re taken away so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me,” Kurt said. “Not compared to drinking or smoking anyway.”
Like most students, Kurt uses it mainly to buy alcohol and cigarettes.
“I still haven’t worked up the confidence to try it at a bar,” Kurt said. “Bars seem much more intimidating and personal, especially interacting with the bartender. My fake says I’m 23, and I can pass as 23 convincingly to a security guard for 30 seconds, but it’s hard to maintain a charade like that for an extended period of time.”
Lara and Kurt have different ways of getting away with using a fake ID. Lara believes the trick is to just have a quality card.
“I used to put on makeup and dress ‘older’ to try not to look as young as I was, but after a while I realized it really doesn’t matter what you look like as long as the ID isn’t poor quality,” Lara said. “My IDs don’t even have my picture on them. They’re all pictures of other girls with brown hair. No one’s going to tell you that you look too different from your picture because you can just argue that you’ve changed a lot since it was taken.”
Kurt, on the other hand, believes it has more to do with attitude, not card quality.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a way of acting older,” Kurt said. “It’s more a way of acting very nonchalant, like there’s no reason anything would be out of the ordinary in the first place. Casual and confident, like you’re used to being asked and don’t mind.”
Lara said that there have only been a few times that her card’s authenticity has been doubted, but that doesn’t stop her from using it.
Dewell also said that there are specific things police officers look for when trying to decide if a card is a fake or not, not all of which he is at liberty to disclose.
“The most common indicator that an ID is fake is usually in the ‘feel’ of the plastic that the card information is printed onto,” he said. “Additionally, the print font is usually of a poor and different quality compared to an authentic identification.”
Kids not only risk getting caught by authorities with a fake ID, but they also risk getting duped when ordering them from shady card sellers.
Seth* ’15 got the contact of a fake ID maker from his friend during the summer and ordered a few cards for himself and his friends through email. He sent $300 in cash through the mail, but he never received the cards.
“I tried emailing him after a few weeks of not getting the cards in the mail, but he never responded,” Seth said. “I emailed him like 10 times, but I got nothing and it wasn’t I could go to the police or anything, even though he technically robbed me. I was pretty infuriated, but what can you do?”
Getting caught is another source of stress for students, too.
Last year, Lara’s friends had asked her to pick up alcohol so she went to a grocery store. A bottle of vodka in hand, she waited in line to pay when a police officer came and stood behind her.
“I was obviously freaking out,” Lara said.
Her hands shaking, she quickly got out of line and waited in an aisle for five minutes so that the coast would be clear.
Ever since then she’s much more cautious of her surroundings when using the card, but the situation didn’t scare her out of using it.
Some students find that having a fake ID is actually a hassle at times if they are the only ones in their friend group with one.
Friends are always asking them to buy alcohol or cigarettes for them. It’s also difficult to go out and go drinking or clubbing if none of their friends can go with them.
“It can be annoying when we go out to dinner and want to drink a glass of wine or martini or something, but none of them can order because then I’m left either drinking alone, illegally slipping them sips, illegally giving them entire drinks which could be obvious, or just not drinking at all,” Lara said.
*Names have been changed.