Booze Laws Fuel Escalating Fake ID Arms Race



The other day, as noted at Reason 24/7, the BBC ran a suitably amused story about the vast fake identification industry that has resulted from America's weird and restrictive alcohol laws. According to the Beeb, New York is implementing some new generation of "unforgeable" drivers license technology that, officials claim, will finally put an end to this horrible business of 18-year-olds buying beer. Since most people around the world don't consider alcohol consumption by 18-year-olds to be a bad thing at all, the restrictive booze laws, and the ensuing identification technology arms race, are good spectator sport for the BBC's audience.

From the BBC:

New York state has unveiled new driving licences engraved with a "ghost image" that floats in a transparent window and, officials proclaim, is virtually impossible to tamper with or forge.

Similar cards have been issued in Virginia since 2009, and if they prove a success the other 48 states could follow suit. Given that it is virtually impossible to purchase alcohol in the US without being asked for ID, this would make it much harder to convince bar staff or grocery store staff that an under-age purchaser is over 21.

But the sheer prevalence of bogus identity cards like that carried by Madison suggests that efforts to circumvent the authorities' latest tactics are inevitable.

All the evidence suggests that acquiring phony identification is commonplace among huge swaths of otherwise law-abiding young American adults—especially those who have left home for the first time to study at university.

A 2007 University of Missouri study of Midwestern undergraduates found that some 32% of those surveyed owned a fake ID by the end of their second year.

There are reasons other than buying booze that fuel a market for fake ID, of course. Identity theft drives some small demand for documents, the restrictive immigration laws of recent years have also created a market for fake ID, and some people have always wanted the ability to duck into a new life. ID security advocates always raise terrorism as an issue, too, and there's likely some market for fake identification among the sort of terrorists who don't rely entirely on explosive underwear. But the vast industry producing fake drivers licenses was created almost entirely to satisfy the desire for young American adults to be able to purchase booze in bars and liquor stores.

And it is a vast industry. Just last year, the U.S. media ran surprised stories about how what was once dorm-based craft forgery had transformed into a sophisticated international business that advertises its wares through professional Web sites. But the powers that be don't seem to have realized what they've created by escalating the game. When Owen McShane, director of investigations for the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, boasts to the New York Times of how much it costs to make the new licenses, he's forgetting that the black market of his memory has transformed.

"It's hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for an inscriber," Mr. McShane said, referring to the engraving machine. "It's not something a college student is going to be able to go out and get."

He's right. I couldn't have done that back in the day. But a printing company in China that does a wide range of business in addition to producing fake American drivers licenses may already own one of the things. As USA Today put it last year:

Most troubling to authorities is the sophistication of the forgeries: Digital holograms are replicated, PVC plastic identical to that found in credit cards is used, and ink appearing only under ultraviolet light is stamped onto the cards.

Each of those manufacturing methods helps the IDs defeat security measures aimed at identifying forged documents.

With restrictive alcohol laws that create huge demand for fake identification, American government has spawned a lucrative, world-wide industry that is almost certainly capable of meeting any challenge thrown its way. And, of course, the products of that industry can be used in any number of ways that should worry officials much more than the evasion of alcohol laws. Restrictions and prohibitions undermine themselves, every time, and create a whole new flock of headaches.

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  1. I used to walk up to the bouncer and hand him my legal ID that said I was 19 years-old. Worked 80% of the time.

    1. Well, you’re so old that there wouldn’t have been a drinking age at all then.

      1. I’m old enough that I got to experience having my class split in half with the drinking age change. When I was in high school, the legal age was 19. Then they set the cut-off to July 1 when it went up to 21, which meant that half my class could legally drink for two years while the other half were criminals.

        1. Come on ProL. All of you were criminals. Just for different reasons.

          1. Some more criminal than others, then.

            1. And you were among which group?

              1. Nevermind, inference says the younger.

                So now I know your story is full of holes.

                1. It sucked ass, let me tell you. There was an attempt to change the law so that it was in effect on January 1, to avoid exactly what happened, but nooooooo.

                  1. It’s OK. It would be snowing in January anyway, and the liquor store would be uphill, both ways.

                    1. Nah, no snow and few hills in my part of Florida. And we have private liquor stores.

  2. But a printing company in China that does a wide range of business in addition to producing fake American drivers licenses may already own one of the things.

    I fucking love capitalism! Watching control-freak fuckwits like Bloomberg and Tony get thwarted is so satisfying.

    1. Watching them get thwarted by a country run using their control-freak ideas is even better.

    2. were so uptight about teens having beer that we risk actual terrorists getting access to better than official IDs. Priorities.

      1. This.

        Yet another black market fueled by prohibition.

        I bet there would be far fewer companies fueling and supplying the fake ID industry if the only customers were terrorists and identity thieves.

    3. Back in the late 90’s/early 00’s New York was probably the most frequently faked ID on the east coast. There were so many of the things floating around that the local bars caught on and stopped accepting them. I guess they thought it was strange that half their patrons on a Thursday night were from 200 miles away…

      1. Any teenager walking around Times Square would have somebody stage-whispering “IDs, IDs” to him as he walked past every freaking storefront.

        Then the Chinese took der jerbs, I guess.

  3. If it’s in the right light, the VA ones look like you’ve died and come back as a Force ghost.

    1. I was lucky enough to get my latest license when VA was going thru its “don’t smile” bullshit. I look like a maladjusted sadist on my ID.

      1. Here they seem to have a lot of trouble taking photos of people wearing glasses without glare being a problem. So I look both terrible and completely unlike myself in my drivers license photo. It’s actually pretty annoying–it takes people a minute to confirm it’s me when I get carded, and I’m sure that’s why.

        1. I keep my license from when I was 35lbs heavier. I get the double take constantly. I also use it as motivation to not get fat again.

      2. I look like a maladjusted sadist on my ID.

        If you had smiled would you end up looking like a maladjusted psychopath?

      3. I look like a maladjusted sadist on my ID.

        So you look like a libertarian.

      4. I never smile. Occasionally I smirk, but mostly I just give them a dead-eyed off-center stare.

        1. Not smiling–compelled speech?

          1. They tell me to smile. I will not do it. I’m a rebel. A wild anarchist taking my freedom back from The Man!

            1. Sorry, I didn’t mean your non-smile. I meant Virginia telling people they couldn’t smile. If the Supreme Court says I can cover up the state motto on my license tag because it’s otherwise compelled speech, why can the state make me not smile?

              1. Oh, I see. I was just jumping at the chance to talk about my cray-cray ideology that will totes never work because government is awesome.

                1. Look, I understand human nature. Unless you can prove that not smiling will solve all the problems caused by smiling, I’m not interested.

                  1. There goes the Axis of Glib while some people are trying to have an adult conversation.

                    1. We are humans in monster form.

                    2. Was that a compelled comment?

                    3. It’s a trap!

      5. Currently waiting on my CPL. The picture they took for it should be good-and-maladjusted. Weird angle from the camera being on a counter, plus with a bit of an on-edge look from spending hours with government employees filling out forms and waiting.

      6. You mean you’re not a malajusted sadist in real life?

      7. I look like a maladjusted sadist on my ID

        Sounds like they really captured your essence then.

  4. His name was “McLovin” but the signature clearly has a “g” at the end. I never noticed that.

    1. Good eye

  5. Now that marijuana and gay marriage have breached the castle walls, can the fucking drinking age mount a new assault?

    1. What, provide proof that marijuana is a gateway drug?

    2. “Drinking age” has a well-defined meaning of being 21 years old. How dare you try and change the definition of a term!

      If God wanted a 18-year-old to drink, He would have made them be born three years earlier.

      1. God doesn’t speak American.

      2. SF, what would he have done for all those over 21 between the years of 1919-1933?

        1. Bathtub gin would have fallen from the sky like a sweet blinding rain.

          1. No, it would only blind you if you tried to bottle and save it for later. If you just turned up your face and opened your mouth you’d be good.

            1. What was the state of the bathtub vermouth industry during Prohibition? Were olives considered paraphernalia?

              1. I think bathtubs were considered paraphernalia.

                1. “Where’s the juniper? WHERE’S THE FUCKING JUNIPER? DID YOU FLUSH IT?”

      3. Look at these dickheads! Using government coercion to attempt to change the drinking age!

        1. I was actually for lowering the drinking age, until I found out it was all about people wanting to hit innocent teetotalers with liquor bottles. I mean, obviously, that’s all lowering the legal drinking age could possibly mean to anyone that advocates it.

          1. I’m totally in favor of people drinking if they choose, although I would never drink. I’ve never even had an urge to drink, honest. I used to go hang out at this drinker bar and not drink. I always wondered what was behind this mysterious door in the drinker bar, but I never went in. Have I mentioned that I’ve never had an urge to drink?

            1. Continue.

      4. I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen all the PSAs were about how drinking would lead to other drugs and death in a horrible car crash on Prom night no less. Now I note with amusement that a lot of the PSAs are aimed at parents who let their kids drink.
        Somebody figured us middle aged people would be frightened of tough talking State Troopers doing voice overs.

        1. I remember all the high schools bringing in crushed cars and putting them on the lawn in front. Drinking = death. I guess they just put texting on them now.

    3. Not gonna happen. That fortress is fortified with the bodies of teen drunk driving victims and senior bash’s ending in tragedy.

      1. The Ralphs on Whittier and Painter used to refuse to sell alcohol to people with out of state IDs because they were terrified of getting rolled by ABC. It was always fun watching the Brits and Bulgarians try to buy alcohol with a passport.


      CBS News Poll. March 12-16, 2009
      “As you may know, the legal drinking age is 21. Would you approve or disapprove of states lowering the drinking age to 18, if the states felt that would give the police more time to enforce other laws?”

      Yes: 24%
      No: 73%


      So… it’ll be a while.

      1. I bet state by state results would be different. Especially those states that were 18 until the mid 80s, like GA.

        Or Wisconsin, Im not sure they had an age limit until it was forced upon them.

      2. So a quarter of the country is in favor of legalizing weed outright but is not in favor of lowering the drinking age to coincide with the voting age/age of draftability/age at which you’ll definitely be tried as an adult?

        I am boggled.

  6. It’s funny that this is the same magazine that published a turd of an article by Steve Chapman arguing that having the highest drinking age in the world is just swell.

    1. How dare they publish writers who don’t share the same opinion on everything!

      1. Yeah, but Chapman’s an idiot. What’s next, Pauly Krugnuts starts getting regular space here?

        1. What’s next, Pauly Krugnuts starts getting regular space here?

          It’s probably a good thing I’m not an editor at reason because I would totally do that just to troll the commentariat.

          1. Hey, the man is capable of brilliant insight and considerable wit. He simply has other priorities these days.

  7. A 2007 University of Missouri study of Midwestern undergraduates found that some 32% of those surveyed owned a fake ID by the end of their second year.

    There’s not much to do in Colombia, Missourah besides drink and fuck.

  8. I never could get a fake ID, so I just bought weed instead.

    1. It was much easier to get weed at the age of 12 than it was to buy beer.

      1. And I love my weed. Thanks drug warriors.

    2. Weed was everywhere, you could grow it in your backyard, in the woods. Beer on the other hand had to be manufactured. (This was before micro brewing)

    3. I just never bothered. Bars are too expensive and there never seemed to be a shortage of available liquor around.

  9. Why is it that people are smart enough to vote at 18 but too dumb to buy booze until they’re 21? Probably because the effects of stupid drinking are immediately obvious but the consequences of stupid voting are delayed and diffused. Also, stupid votes tend Leftward, which is fine with the current ruling class.

    1. They’re also adult enough to get drafted and be sent to die alone and in pain on some godforsaken rock. But they’re not old enough to drink.

      1. Don’t think that argument works anymore

  10. Mclovin resembles a young Clark Howard.

  11. “When I was seventeen, I drank some very good beer
    I drank some very good beer I purchased with a fake ID
    My name was Brian McGee
    I stayed up listening to Queen
    When I was seventeen”

    1. Those 90s episodes had some really good songs.

  12. Given that it is virtually impossible to purchase alcohol in the US without being asked for ID

    Hard? OK, sure. “Virtually impossible”? Not even close.

    Also, great alt-text.

    1. Hard? OK, sure. “Virtually impossible”? Not even close.

      Once you hit 40 or so, you might stop getting asked for ID.

      1. As recently as 3 years ago I purchased alcohol without getting carded while underage.

        I still only get carded probably 3/4 of the time, though this varies a lot by where you are (as I understand it NYC is basically not at all). You’re going to get carded a lot of the time, but not so often that it’s “virtually impossible” to pull it off.

        1. My piece of shit local grocery store has a ridiculous policy that allegedly involves carding every member of any party buying alcohol. My boyfriend has been grocery shopping with me a few times and not had his ID on him, leading to us not being able to buy beer. The second time this happened I made an epic scene about why they had let the bitch in front of us check out when she had her clearly underage children with her. I mean how do you know that wine isn’t for her toddler, huh? Your policy is clear on this point! This is one reason I try to stick to Peapod.

          1. A local convenience store near me started a policy of carding everyone a few years ago. Apparently they didn’t trust their employees’ to tell the difference between a 20 year old and a 60 year old. Some old dude ended up making a scene one day and wound up arrested.

        2. Manhattan yes you’ll get carded 99% of the time on Friday & Saturday night even if you’re 40. That number drops a lot if you in the outer boroughs or it’s Tuesday night.
          “Of the 90 stores where the decoys purchased alcohol, 21 out of 35 were in the Bronx, 20 out
          of 34 were in Brooklyn, 29 out of 84 were in Manhattan, 14 out of 42 were in Queens, and 6 out of 6
          were on Staten Island.”

      2. I am 23 and I never get carded (I don’t go out that often either).

        1. Dads look old.

      3. I’m still a good way from 40, but almost never get carded. Having a beard and a serious expression on my face probably helps.

        1. I always felt like beards actually make you look younger if you are 18-25 and trying to buy alcohol, because it makes you seem like you’re trying to look older.

          1. You must always be rocking the wrong kind of beard.

      4. 26, almost never carded outside a big liquor store. Restaurants, bars, grocery stores almost never unless it is a Friday or Saturday night where everyone has to show a card to get in.

  13. None of this would be an issue if we’d just privatize the road systems.

    Just sayin’…

  14. How come no one ever gets upset about the racism of states requiring ID to purchase alcohol?

    1. I do.

      Well, not so much about racism, but about having to identify myself. If the state really finds it so damn important to keep younger people from buying liquor, then they should give everyone a free ID with just a picture and the text “OK to buy alcohol” on it. Why the fuck does the guy at the liquor store need to know my name, address and DOB?

  15. Being a tad older, I could drink at 18 but we always had wine at dinner so it wasn’t a big deal. I think I have been carded twice b/c I look about 15 years younger than I am. If you can get a fake ID, go for it. We have too many damn laws as it is. Secondly, prohibiting a substance only increases the temptation, no wonder why we have underage drinkers, rampant, forgeries, and ETOH issues in America. It’s time religion and govt get out of peoples’ lives!

    1. Now, when you say you’re a bear…

  16. Best fake ID I ever saw was owned by a large dark skinned black guy. The picture was of a large black Labrador Retriever. It was classic.

  17. Would you look at that. It’s illegal to drink in Somalia. I guess we’ll need a new libertarian paradise.

  18. there’s likely some market for fake identification among the sort of terrorists who don’t rely entirely on explosive underwear.

    The FBI has that market covered.

  19. I had a fake ID in college. I admitted same when I did my police background checks. Fwiw, you are much better off using your buddy’s ID who looks like you, a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions, vs. using a forged document. Since a forged driver’s license is a govt. document, in many jurisdictions, it’s TECHNICALLY a felony to possess or make one. Generally speaking, you won’t get charged the felony if you get jacked up, but why risk it? Much better off with using one that looks like you vs. one fraudulently made or altered.

    When I told my background investigator of this heinous crime, there was much “meh…”

  20. “The second time this happened I made an epic scene about why they had let the bitch in front of us check out when she had her clearly underage children with her. ”

    And ironically, in many states, it’s perfectly legal for parents to buy/supply liquor to their kids as long as they are in their home when they do it, and they supervise the consumption.

    My parents started giving me wine (watered down at first) with dinner when I was 14. Perfectly legal.

  21. There are reasons other than buying booze that fuel a market for fake ID, of course.

    Andrew: What do you need a fake I.D. for?
    Brian: So I can vote.

  22. At the Versetzmuseum (Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam, there is an exhibit on forged passport documents that were used to provide Jews and resistance members with new identities during the German Occupation. One of the sub exhibits allows you to closely inspect several legitimate and forged documents and take a test to try to determine which is which. Some of the forgeries are exceptional, while a few of the legit passports look like they are poor forgeries. The exhibit also details raids that were used to obtain official document blanks to forge passports, visas and other identity documents while hiding that the thefts had taken place.

    It is a fascinating museum and I recommend going if you find yourself in Amsterdam.

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