Fake IDs: Easy to get, risky to use

By Cathy Tatom - Investigative Producer

HOUSTON - In the rush to get ready for back-to-school, many students under the age of 21 are in a hurry to buy a fake ID.

"It's this mentality of like, 'Oh I don't want to wait til I'm 21. I want to be able to drink now, to get (a) beer now, to get wine. I'm an adult. I feel like I should be able to do this.'"   

'John' told Channel 2 Investigates why he got a fake ID, but only after we agreed not to reveal his real name. "I just decided, hey, you know what, I want to be able to go out with everybody when they go downtown or go bar-hopping or anything like that and so I decided to get one."

High-quality fake drivers' licenses purchased from online sellers frequently include many of the sophisticated security features of real state-issued licenses. Those features make spotting fakes tough, but not impossible, according to Capt. Carla Thompson of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. 

"They typically screw up with not being able to identically copy the security feature," Thompson said.

Individual high-quality fakes can cost as much as $150 to $200. However, internet sites often lure teens and college kids by offering group discounts that drastically lower the price. John said teens even shop around because different sites offer different discounts.  

"It could be anywhere from $60, to $80, to $100 or even more. It depends on how big your group is." Thompson said. 

Companies offering fakes on the internet are typically located overseas. But no matter what the price, or where they came from, fake IDs are illegal in Texas unless clearly marked "for novelty use only." Using a fake ID to get into a bar is a misdemeanor offense if you are under the age of 21.

The consequences can increase if the person using a fake ID is arrested for being publicly intoxicated, or drinking and driving.

To crack down on the use of fakes, the TABC conducts what it calls "fake outs" just before the semester starts for local colleges.  

During fake outs, bouncers work with TABC agents to catch underage kids trying to get into bars and clubs using fake Ids. We went along for one of the august fake outs in Houston.

Jon has worked as a doorman or bouncer in several Houston bars.  We asked how often he sees those under 21 trying to slip in using fake IDs. "Nowadays I’m getting like three or four a night."

He said bouncers can easily spot bad fakes by feel or because the maker used the wrong color of ink.  High-quality fakes require more scrutiny.  

Can you spot what’s wrong with these cards?

It takes a keen eye and or a blacklight to determine just two tiny dots are misplaced on the fakes.  

The TABC teaches bouncers and doormen other signs to spot bogus IDs, but won't share those in an effort to keep ahead of counterfeiters, Thompson said. 

"Almost as soon as the security features are put in place the counterfeiters, ah, moves to keep up with that technology."  

Scott Walters is a professor at the UNT health science center in Fort Worth.  He did a study of the relationship between alcohol-related problems and fake ID ownership, using a survey of incoming first-year college students from across the country. 

"What we found was in a sample of about 8,000 students that nearly eight percent of students reported that they owned a fake ID going into their freshman year of college," Walters said.

Walters said the study found no differences in gender or ethnicity among those with fakes.  He was quick to add it did show those with fakes do have something in common.

"People that had a fake ID were more likely to report drinking-related problems, even controlling for the amount that they were drinking. So, it almost looks like people are becoming sloppier maybe or drinking in a more risky way if they have a fake ID. So things like feeling sick, being hungover, embarrassing yourself, drinking and driving, all of those things were more prevalent among people that owned fake IDs," Walters said.

Getting a fake ID can give underage drinkers access to alcohol. 

The Centers for Disease Control list among the consequences of underage drinking:

School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.

Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.

Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.

Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.

Abuse of other drugs.

Changes in brain development that may have lifelong effects.

Death from alcohol poisoning.

The CDC's 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals 30 percent of high school students reporting drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.  It also found about one-in-five high school seniors binge drank during the past 30 days. 

In a separate study, the substance abuse and mental health services administration report young adults aged 18 to 20 had the highest rate of alcohol misuse-related emergency department visits. Click link for more information.

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