Fake IDs a part of life on UM campus Even high-tech safeguards are thwarted

November 24, 1995|By Christina Asquith | Christina Asquith,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

COLLEGE PARK -- Moving up the long line of college students waiting outside The Rendezvous, a jam-packed, dimly lighted bar in College Park, Marcie and Audrey slide their fake IDs out of their pockets and nervously approach the tall, beefy bouncer. "I'm scared," says Marcie.

But the bouncer barely glances at 19-year old Marcie's identification -- a New York driver's license belonging to a 26-year-old woman -- before stamping her hand and waving her inside. Her friends, also sophomores at the University of Maryland and carrying fake IDs, quickly follow.

"It's the most important possession in school," says Audrey, who like Marcie spoke on condition her last name be withheld. She pushed through a packed crowd of young-looking students buying $1.50 pitchers of beer and ordered four Bud Lights. "There is no social life without it."

Since Maryland and many other states raised the drinking age to 21 in the 1980s, fake IDs have exploded onto college campuses. In College Park, where most students are underage but bars ostensibly require a minimum age of 21, police snagged more than 3,000 fake IDs in bars last year alone.

The fake-ID phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by state officials. In Maryland last year -- and gradually in states across the nation -- officials added a hologram, metal strip and a second photo to licenses in an effort to thwart fakers. Some police say it is working.

"It's been a big help to us," said Robert Flanigan, of the Frostburg Police Department, who patrols the city bars popular with Frostburg State University students. "I haven't seen any fake Maryland licenses in the last couple years, except one or two really dumb ones."

But students say that where there is a will there is a way. Gone are the days when a razor blade and typewriter would do the trick. Today, students buy phony IDs for less than $20 from vendors in Washington, D.C. Others mail-order them through magazines or borrow them from older friends. Other students master the same kind of computer technology the Motor Vehicle Administration uses to try to stop them.

"There are a number of ways to do it," said Kevin Gandel, a 20-year-old from Pikesville who is majoring in criminal justice at University of Maryland College Park. "They take the license and scan it into the computer and then, using an art program, they change the stuff on the license."

Tennessee driver's licenses, which have no holograms, are among the easiest to duplicate, said Mr. Gandel, who said he did not own a fake ID. The plastic lamination? "Twenty dollars through mail order; that's the easiest part," he scoffed.

While drinking is a major form of recreation at most colleges, many students complain there is nothing do outside of the bar scene. "Everything here in College Park is bars," said Audrey. "If you don't have an ID, you are in your room."

To David Sher, an 18-year-old from Terre Haute, Ind., a fake ID was so important that he made sure he had one before he got his books, a class schedule or even a roommate.

"I was totally stoked. I was like, 'Yes, I finally found a fake ID,' " said Mr. Sher, who persuaded his older brother's friend to sell him his driver's license for $50. "It's totally legitimate. If I get caught, I'll just say I found it."

Students do get caught. While penalties for carrying a fake driver's license can be a fine of up to $500 and jail time, law enforcement officials in College Park say they usually just confiscate the ID. At Loyola College in Baltimore, campus police say they sometimes refer students to the college judiciary board, which could fine or suspend them.

"It used to be they'd take a big white poster board and the person would stand in front of it and have their picture taken, and laminate it," said Lt. Jay Gruber, of the University of Maryland campus police. "That was pretty low-tech, but it worked. Now, with the advent of computers, it's much easier to make the IDs, and they are much more realistic."

Just last year, six months after the state introduced its more sophisticated license, University of Maryland campus police stopped six students climbing over a gate near the campus. When one student opened his wallet to produce an ID, a police officer noticed two driver's licenses in his wallet. Although they both had golden holograms, seals and strips, one license said he was 18, the other said he was 21.

A monthlong investigation turned up a string of the fake Maryland licenses, but not the forger.

MVA officials acknowledge they are fighting an uphill battle. "It's not foolproof. We're not that naive," said Jim Lang, spokesman for the MVA. "It doesn't take a detective to know kids do this, and they always have and they probably always will."

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