GRAND FORKS -- The use of fake identification to purchase alcohol has been going on for decades, but those fake IDs are only getting better and easier to obtain, officials say.
Fake IDs have “absolutely” gotten better over time, University of North Dakota Police Lt. Danny Weigel said. “I think as the technology improves, you see better watermarks underneath the IDs, and when you move them toward light they reflect differently; those have gotten better in the five, six, seven years,” he said.
Students are less likely to use a friend’s ID and pass it off as their own now, Weigel noted. Instead people are now able to purchase fake IDs by simply going online, filling out a bit of information and including a real photo of themselves.
“The IDs look completely legitimate. It has a picture of them on it, but usually they’re an out-of-state ID,” Weigel said. “On the surface it’s going to look completely normal if (a bartender or bouncer) is not completely familiar with that state’s identification and (the individual) might get served that way.”
Eric Solberg, general manager of Brick and Barley, Level 10 and O'Reilly's in downtown Grand Forks, said he has also seen an improvement on fake IDs over time. He is also aware of the websites people use to obtain those counterfeit IDs.
Solberg said the bars stay in contact with the Grand Forks Police Department about the fake IDs. Additionally, the bars are in communication with one another about them.
Anyone who serves liquor in Grand Forks is required to go through responsible server training through GFPD, which helps with spotting fake IDs, Solberg said. Servers are required to go through the training every three years. Additionally, on-the-job training and constant communication is important to recognize differences in new IDs and fake ones.
“My staff is trained pretty well, and I try to work with them as much as possible, and as soon as we see something new we bring it to their attention,” he said.
Whether or not an ID is expired can sometimes be a telltale sign that an ID is fake. Another sign could be the lamination on the card or if the ID lists one height and it’s clear that the person in front of them is much shorter or taller than it reads, Solberg said.
“Things like that can stand out,” he said.
After being with the department for a number of years, Weigel typically knows right away when he’s been presented a fake ID. The IDs are run through a dispatch system or through a computer system in the police vehicles, Weigel said. If it’s a fake it will come back as “not on file” because there’s no information for that person in a particular state, Weigel said.
The fake IDs are typically from out of state, including most commonly Illinois and Wisconsin, Weigel said. When an officer is presented an ID from one of those states it can signal “red flags.”
If a bartender or bouncer believes that an ID may be fake, Solberg said they will often politely ask if the card is real, in order to give the person a chance to admit it’s a fake.
If the individual is adamant that it is a real ID, then the bar will call over a police officer who will be able to verify whether or not the card is legitimate.
“I would say that 90 percent of the time people will say, ‘Yeah, that’s a fake’ and they walk away,” he said.
Regardless of whether the person admits it’s a fraudulent ID or not, if the ID is fake it is confiscated and turned over to the police, Solberg said.
“The main purpose for us confiscating the fake IDs is not to ruin somebody’s night or anything like that. It’s just making sure that our customers are safe,” Solberg said.
Bars also have laws to follow, and serving alcohol to minors could result in penalties for businesses.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for any underage drinkers in here,” Solberg said. “It’s not only the bar’s livelihood but also all our employees. So if anybody was to get caught, it’s a detrimental effect on everybody.”
The fakes typically start showing up about a month or so after students arrive on campus, Weigel said. The department takes in a few every couple of weeks, he added.
The department has a book that explains what an ID from each state should look like, but Weigel noted that the IDs are always changing.
“For us at the police department it comes down to education,” Weigel said.
It’s important for the department to be up-to-date on the IDs, but students also need to understand the consequences of using a fake ID, Weigel added. He noted that students and others under 21 can be worried about getting a minor in possession or a minor in consumption citation, but the penalties for using a fake ID can be more severe.
Purchasing or attempting to purchase alcohol if a person is under the age of 21 is illegal in North Dakota, as is using a fake ID to purchase alcohol. Either of these violations could qualify as a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
“It’s really about educating (the individual) and telling them ‘Hey, they’re really not worth it to use,’ ” Weigel said.