Police crack down on fake IDs Technology makes phony licenses harder to spot

August 31, 1998|By Ron Snyder | Ron Snyder,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Cashier Roxann Hyatt knows a false ID when she sees one -- sometimes.

She confiscates two or three false driver's licenses from underage drinkers each weekend at Wells Liquors, a popular Towson-area store near several colleges. But these days, she says, computer-generated fakes are becoming more and more realistic.

"I keep a real close eye on IDs, especially if they are out-of-state, but it has gotten harder to spot them because the technology has gotten so good," Hyatt said.

With classes starting this week at most Maryland colleges and universities, authorities are cracking down on an illicit business they say crosses state lines and generates millions of dollars in revenue.

The forged identifications, which cost between $100 and $125, typically are produced with off-the-shelf computers, image scanners and printers -- the same technology that has led to an increase in counterfeit money.

On Aug. 10, for example, six people were charged with producing more than 10,000 false IDs in Doylestown, Pa. According to the indictments, they distributed the fakes to more than 30 schools on the East Coast, including Towson University and Western Maryland College.

Four months earlier, a sting operation in New Jersey resulted in the arrests of seven people allegedly involved in an operation that had netted more than $80,000 a month over two years. In that case, the accused held parties where people were photographed. The pictures were then scanned and delivered to the home of one suspect, who produced the false IDs and delivered them to the underage students a few days later.

Again, students from a number of Maryland schools, including Towson, Loyola College and University of Maryland, College Park, were accused of purchasing the fake IDs.

More off-campus drinking

With fakes so easy to obtain, off-campus drinking has become more prevalent, said Cpl. Scott Rouch of Towson University Police Department.

"We are very aware of the number of fake IDs which circulate around this campus, and with the new school year starting soon, we plan on keeping a very close eye on the situation," Rouch said.

When school starts, he said, the university police will continue investigating leads from last year regarding false IDs. Many times, university police will work with Baltimore County Police Department.

"We share a lot of resources with Baltimore County," Rouch said. "In the case of false IDs, whenever we confiscate one we try to trace it to where it came from. It's our goal to let people know that the fake ID business is a very risky one to get involved with."

In Maryland, possessing a false ID is punishable by up to a $500 fine for a first-time offender and $1,000 for a repeat offender. If the offender is caught using the ID to purchase alcohol, that ID would be seized and the real driver's license could be suspended for six months.

License 'key to social life'

"A driver's license for young people is the key to their social life," said Ray Leard of the Motor Vehicle Administration. "Our hope is that the threat of losing their license makes them think twice about trying to purchase beer."

Manufacturing and distributing false IDs in Maryland is fTC misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine for each card produced.

Along with the police and the MVA, area businesses have taken added precautions.

"I make sure to card anyone who looks under 30 and ask for two backup forms of identification if the license is out-of-state," said Joanne Farinetti, manager of Crack Pot Liquors in Towson. "If they can't provide it, we won't serve them."

'Hard to catch'

Liz Smith, manager of Wells Liquors, said: "We try to make every effort we can to spot false IDs, especially when school starts. We have a book which tells us what every license should look like, but it's hard to catch every one."

Maj. Allan Webster, commander of the Baltimore County Criminal Investigation Division, said he sympathizes with liquor store workers who card people but end up selling alcohol to underage people with well-made fake IDs.

"It's so hard to spot these nowadays. Kids who get caught with them are usually very reluctant to tell us where they got them from," Webster said.

While there has not been a false ID ring broken recently in Baltimore County, police have taken steps in hopes of discouraging people from using the IDs. During two weekends in May, police cited 45 people with various infractions during "Operation R.A.A.M." (Reducing Alcohol Availability to Minors).

Operation R.A.A.M.

Operation R.A.A.M. is modeled after a similar program in Ocean City, which cited 3,100 people last year for underage drinking.

"We try to help establishments spot people who are underage," Webster said. "Many times, 19- or 20-year-olds try to purchase alcohol, and because they look older, stores assume they are 21."

Webster said he hopes to expand Operation R.A.A.M. to be year-round. But to do that, he said, he needs a state grant.

"This program was very successful, but I feel we can do more," he said. "We have worked so well with area businesses that we plan on continuing the program during times of increased alcohol consumption, even if we don't get the funding."

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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