Teens know how to make it to fake it

IDs: Kids say that with PC technology, cash and the right connections, it's easy to come of age on plastic.

April 22, 2004|By Howie Paul Hartnett | Howie Paul Hartnett,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The decision to get a fake ID was easy.

The 14-year-old south Charlotte boy wanted a slingshot, but Wal-Mart won't sell one to customers under 16.

So, the boy said, he went to a friend. Thirty minutes later, an old school ID card was transformed to make the boy 16.

"I just used it for one thing, the slingshot," said the boy, now a 15-year-old student at Charlotte's Providence High School who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But some people use [them] constantly for everything. I'm sure if you went to my school and went through all the lockers, you could find at least 100 fake IDs."

Law enforcement officials aren't surprised. Advances in technology have made fake IDs - such as driver's licenses and other photo-ID cards - so accessible that teens are getting them in record numbers.

"A few years ago you might have caught a kid with a fake ID about 20 percent of the time," said Omar Qureshi, a North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement agent based in Charlotte. "Now it's 80 percent of the time. There's a tremendous amount of IDs out there. It's almost to the point where it's overwhelming."

The boom is fueled by a teen population armed with increasingly advanced computer equipment, enough combined disposable income to rival the economies of small nations and the savvy to use both.

Some people still see fake IDs as a rite of passage, but a growing number of security experts worry that today's under-aged drinker is tomorrow's identity thief.

Web sites offering license templates, license-altering programs or finished products abound on the Internet. But local teens say they don't have to go online.

Many know someone with a fake ID or someone who can make one, said teens interviewed by The Charlotte Observer.

"If I wanted to, I could get 19-, 20-, 21-year-old cards [in two days]," the 15-year-old boy said. "If you want one that says you're 18 on something flimsy, that's anywhere from free to $20. If you want something hard, like a driver's license, it will cost anywhere from $20 to $50."

Another Charlotte teen said he could get a near-perfect driver's license for anywhere from $400 to $900 - depending on how well the seller knows the buyer.

The 17-year-old, who said he has used a fake license listing him as 22 to buy alcohol and get into clubs, said he bought his two years ago.

"Because I was a friend, I paid $45 for it," he said. "Normally, it's around $400."

Teens nationwide have the money. They spent $175 billion last year and are expected to top Portugal's entire $182 billion economy within two years.

But many fakes don't cost much to make, teens and experts say.

It used to be teens would scratch out date of birth numbers, said Alan Lee, ABC officer for Concord, N.C., police.

"[Now] they're taking a clear piece of one-sided tape and going onto a computer," he said, explaining the updated version of the process.

In January, state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents arrested University of North Carolina at Charlotte student Brian Edward Cary, 20, on charges that included selling false licenses.

Cary made fake Florida and Colorado licenses on his personal computer that sold for $30 to $40 apiece, said Qureshi.

"His IDs were actually pretty good," Qureshi said. "There's no way we could hold a clerk responsible for selling to [his clients]."

Law enforcement officials say some teens are beginning to carry fakes so good even they sometimes have trouble spotting them. ALE agents carry books that describe legal licenses on their nightly patrols.

But with more than 550 valid state license variations available in the United States, it's difficult to keep up with the latest changes, said David Myers, a Florida fake-documents expert who trains law enforcement agencies around the country.

Mississippi, for example, just came out with 10 versions of its license, he said.

Most counterfeiters don't even bother searching for obscure licenses to copy. Several state licenses - including the Carolinas' - can be replicated with enough accuracy to fool most officials, Myers said.

State license makers and security experts try to combat counterfeiters by adding digital watermarks, microtext printing, invisible inks only visible under certain light, holograms and other devices in licenses. But all a counterfeiter has to do is make a fake look good enough to pass a quick inspection.

License scanners or authenticators are better about checking the validity of a license, but such devices are years away from being the norm in clubs, convenience stores or even police cars, Myers said.

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