Many of us may think fake IDs are a harmless trick, raising thoughts of good music, dancing and, if you saw Superbad, McLovin.
But fake-ID owners are more than twice as likely to suffer some alcohol-related problem, such as missing class, getting into fights, or driving while intoxicated, according to The University of Texas Health Science Center. And, according to a Harvard University study, nearly 30 percent of users get caught, often by the police.
Robin (not his real name) got his first fake ID in 12th grade while at St. John’s School. He says he was one of 40 kids who gave money to someone who knew someone who could make IDs. With online how-to guides and novelty-ID shops, fake IDs are easier to get than ever.
But while he and his friends never got caught buying alcohol from convenience stores, Robin pushed his luck once he reached college.
“I started to go buy alcohol because nobody else in my dorm had an ID,” said Robin, now 20. “But then the store owner got suspicious.”
After calling Robin’s college to confirm that the name on the ID belonged to an underage student, the liquor-store owner waited for Robin to arrive on one of his regular alcohol runs. And when he inevitably did, the owner called the cops.
“The cops came, put me in the back of the cop car,” Robin said.
He said the officers were impressed with the quality of his ID, noting that the card’s magnetic strip scanned like an actual ID.
“Man, how’d you get caught!” Robin recalls one of the officers saying. But Robin’s eye color was not coded in the magnetic strip, tipping off the liquor-store owner.
Robin was charged with having a fake ID and had to pay a $400 fine. But he could have ended up in jail.
Jeff (not his actual name) was pulled over a few months ago for running a red light in West University. But when the officer searched the car, he found the fake ID in the glove compartment. Jeff spent the night in jail.
“I felt like it was overdone,” Jeff said. It could have been worse.
Under Texas state law, possession of a fake driver’s license is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine. However, possession of an altered driver’s license, which has a fake identity rather than just a fake age, is a Class B misdemeanor, with a potential $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
And an ambitious police officer could always up the charge to a Tampering with Government Records, which can be a Class A misdemeanor, meaning a fine up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
But when you use someone else’s ID, that’s when the federal government can get involved.
When she went off to college, Laura (not her real name) joined a sorority. Living in a house with older girls gave her the opportunity to borrow an ID.
“It was offered to me,” Laura said. “She [a sorority sister] had already turned 21, so she just gave me her old, real ID. No one ever questioned it, and I used it all the time.”
While Laura said she initially used her ID to get into clubs that were age 21 and up, she said most people use fake IDs to buy alcohol.
“Freshmen are friends with freshmen, so most aren’t going out to clubs,” she said. “But you would pick up a handle of whatever, go back to the dorm, and use it to pregame with friends.”
But using someone else’s actual ID, as Laura did, goes beyond state law and can be prosecuted under the federal Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This carries a punishment of up to 15 years in jail.
Waiting a few years until you’re 21 to buy alcohol may not seem so bad when the alternative is waiting until you’re in your 30s before you can drink again.
So will teens likely have to face a federal prosecutor for trying to buy Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a Valero with an older sibling’s ID? Maybe not. But Robin and Jeff didn’t expect to get caught either.
A fake ID opens all sorts of doors, and while some of them lead to bars, others lead behind bars.