On a chilly autumn night in Ithaca, Sarah* is home preparing for an evening out. Rather than hit up the usual mix of house parties, she has a different destination in mind: the bar scene.
“When I go out to a bar I usually drink a little bit before; I don’t go to rack up a huge tab and get hammered,” Sarah said. “I go socially with a few friends — under and over age.”
Like some 20-year-olds, Sarah has this flexibility because of a fake ID. Assuming the identity of her older cousin, she ages two years with a small driver’s license photo that closely resembles her light brown hair, round face and tan complexion. There may be some differences — hazel eyes instead of brown, a few inches in height — but Sarah is routinely successful in entering bars and purchasing alcohol in Ithaca.
“I’m taking the risk because I want to be able to have the same fun that my older friends have and not have to feel, I guess, juvenile,” Sarah said.
Possessing a fake ID is a felony in New York state and is punishable on a state and federal level, according to New York state law. False ID possession is handled on a case-by-case basis by the courts and can result in a fine of up to $1,000 for first-time offenders.
Bars could face severe legal repercussions as well. If a bartender is caught serving someone underage, they could face hefty fines as well as jail time. Micawber’s Pub manager Jeffrey Dende said there is a possibility of appeal if the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) cites a bar for serving someone who entered with a fake or false ID, but three violations will cause the bar to lose its liquor license.
“If [the fake ID] was good enough for someone who is trained to catch it, [ABC is] still going to issue the violation,” Dende said.
Dende said Micawber’s has been fine-free since he took over as manager in 2005. For the most part, he said the number of students bouncers encounter with fakes has been low.
“It varies,” Dende said. “In the beginning of the semester, I’ll get four or six a night. Around this time of year you’ll get one or two a night.”
Senior Sonia Kedzierski works as a bouncer at Moonshadow Tavern on The Commons and said she has encountered a variety of creative, if not obvious, fake ID users.
“One kid printed out a Maine ID on a piece of sturdy paper and tried to use that,” Kedzierski said. “One used an ID cracked in half that he had taped together.”
Kedzierski said among the most obvious fakes are New York state driver’s licenses. She said students are “silly” for trying to pass off self-made New York IDs since the real licenses contain a hologram that can be seen only when bending the card.
Kedzierski and other bouncers at Moonshadows are required to check the ID of each person who enters the bar. With a book of detailed photos of driver’s licenses from all 50 states and the use of two scanners, few fake licenses slip through the cracks.
“One scanner is for the bar codes and the other is for the scanning strips [on the back of licenses] for all 50 states,” Kedzierski said. “Some older IDs like Rhode Island and Maine don’t have bar codes and for those we usually ask for backup.”
The majority of students, like Sarah, have old versions of real driver’s licenses given to them by relatives or older friends. While the ID may properly scan, that’s only passing half the test.
“I check birthday, expiration date, and then I look at their picture,” Kedzierski said. “Then I check their height, and last I check eye color. That’s usually a dead give away.”
Facing the door while sitting on a stool inside, Kedzierski is able to discreetly double-check each bar-goers’ height against a measurement scale painted on the doorframe.
Even with these defensive measures in place, Sarah is able to break the system with the strategies she’s honed in the four years since she got her first fake.
“A lot of it is confidence,” she said. “Going up to a bar, you talk with the people you’re with. When the bouncer asks you for ID, you pull it out nonchalantly out of your back pack, almost belittling them for questioning who you are.”
According to the Ithaca College Policy Manual, which follows New York State law, a person using “false or fraudulent” evidence to disguise their age for the “purpose of purchasing or attempting to purchase” alcohol is subject to a $100 fine and/or 30 hours of community service as well as a required alcohol awareness program.
Sophomore Taylor Hine had her fake ID confiscated by a Public Safety officer in October. Hine said she considers herself a law-abiding citizen and even with a fake ID, never ventured to the bars during her freshman year and very rarely as a sophomore.
“I guess I never really saw an issue with having [a fake ID] until running into this problem myself,” she said.
Hine faced no serious consequences from this incident but said she has become wary of using a false ID in the future.
“Socially it was an asset to have that option, the potentiality of being able to go out and try to go to the bar with my older friends,” she said. “That’s gone now.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity