I.D Fraud: How to Spot a Fake ID (& What to do if You Find One)

If you work as a door supervisor, the chances are good that, sooner or later, you will be employed by a venue that requires its patrons to present some form of photographic identification before entering the premises.

British law does not require most venues to check for ID as a matter of course. Instead, it is at the discretion of the venue itself whether or not to check ID at the door. Some venues choose to check everyone’s ID at the point of entry, while others simply apply ‘spot checks’ to those who appear to be underage but are already inside the venue.

Working The Doors

There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. In establishments that serve alcohol, checking IDs at the door makes it easier for bar staff and people ordering drinks to simply get what they want with minimal waiting around or fuss. However, checking at the door usually involves longer-than-usual queues, which can be frustrating, as well as off-putting for the patrons outside.

Mandatory door checks can also be difficult for patrons who do not carry a valid form of photo ID. After all, not everybody carries ID. Those who don’t have a driver’s license or passport, are morally or politically opposed to carrying ID, or have simply forgotten to bring any out with them, will need to be turned away.

It can be tough to deny entry to a patron that has done nothing wrong, especially if that patron is visibly old enough to drink and there are no other reasons to expel them.

Nevertheless, by the time you get hired, the venue’s proprietors will have reached a decision one way or the other – and it will be your job to enforce that decision.

This guide will not attempt to discuss issues such as the Government’s controversial plans to enable a universal ‘COVID ID’ scheme, or the ethical and moral issues raised by ID cards in general. Those are different debates for another time and are not of specific relevance here.

Instead, we will attempt to offer a comprehensive guide to checking IDs and spotting fake IDs as well as offering our best advice regarding the correct handling of false documents.

Much of the information available here was gleaned from the UK Home Office’s ‘False ID Guidance’ document from 2012. The guide is specifically aimed at door staff, as well as other people who work in licensed premises. It is available to read in full by clicking HERE.

1.   General Information

The most common forms of ID used by the British public are driver’s licenses. Both a full driver’s license and a provisional driver’s license are acceptable as forms of ID. CitizenCards and Proof of Age (or ‘PASS cards’) are accepted by some, but not all, venues.

Other acceptable forms of ID include passports of the kind introduced in 2006, passports of the kind introduced in 2010, viable passports from nations besides the United Kingdom and, as previously mentioned, driver’s licenses.

Fake IDs, such as a ‘provisional motorcycle license’ or a ‘UK national identification card’ (or variations thereupon) are commonly used in order to convince door supervisors, retailers and bar staff that the holder of said card is older than they are.

Such cards, though illegal, are relatively easy to obtain. In some cases, the card holder has manufactured it themselves, in others, the card has been purchased from a vendor, usually via the Internet. Since the companies that produce these cards are often based in other countries, it is very difficult for the UK to prevent their manufacture and sale.

Some places, though not the type of venues covered here, will accept a letter displaying the person’s name and address as a form of ID. This may be something like a water or gas bill, or possibly a payslip. Since these do not contain photos of the person, they are not considered to be valid ID by the vast majority of establishments. However, a patron may still present them to you with the hopes of gaining entry.

Additionally, some patrons do not carry a driver’s license, but, due to concerns about losing their passports, don’t carry those either. Instead, some patrons will present a photocopy or scan copy of their passport. Although in the vast majority of cases this is entirely innocent, it does not qualify as a valid form of ID as such things can be easily created using programs and apps like ‘Photoshop’.

It can be a shame to turn away an otherwise decent and reasonable customer due to such a minor issue, but the law does not regard these items as legitimate. It is important to note, however, that these items are not considered to be false documents and are in no way illegal. They are not to be confiscated under any circumstances.

The perceived harshness of these laws can see many patrons becoming frustrated and upset, especially if it ruins their evening. Turning a prospective patron away too harshly can jeopardize their chances of returning and damage the business overall, as well as harming your own reputation. As a result, it should always be done respectfully and sympathetically in order to minimize the customer’s disappointment.

Saying something like, “If you can come back with your passport, I’d be glad to let you in”, or “I’m sorry, but that’s the law” demonstrates that you are only doing your job and can go a long way towards dispelling the notion that you have ‘singled that person out’ for purely vindictive or prejudicial reasons.

2.   Alcohol in the UK

The main reason given for the need to produce ID in venues and nightspots is alcohol misuse.

The United Kingdom is frequently listed as one of the countries that drinks most heavily. In fact, in 2016, we ranked 24th in the world (on a list that included 189 countries), according to the World Health Organisation.

In 2005, the government created the Alcohol Misuse Enforcement Campaign (AMEC) in an attempt to curb underage drinking. It failed to make much of an impact, so then-Home Secretary Charles Clarke called together a group of major retailers to form the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG). The group launched its ‘Challenge 21’ initiative a year later, which was replaced in 2009 by ‘Challenge 25’, whereupon the bartender or retailer is required to request ID from any person they deem as looking younger than 25 years old.

The initiative was reasonably successful in its aims, seeing underage drinking numbers reduced significantly. However, the UK is still statistically a country that drinks to excess, with or without an excess of underage drinking.

In 2009, then-Chief Medical Officer for the United Kingdom, Sir Liam Donaldson, an architect of Britain’s smoking ban, claimed that people who drink alcohol from an early age will drink more frequently than those who begin drinking at the legal age or above it.

Alcohol misuse has been proven to be a cause of, or key contributor to, many serious health problems, including liver disease and various types of cancer. Dr. Donaldson therefore proposed a series of stringent measures designed to limit the availability of alcohol, these included raising prices and tightening licensing laws.

Not all of Dr. Donaldson’s recommendations were adhered to, but some certainly were and his advice became a rallying point for those in power who were keen to prevent underage drinking specifically.

One of these strategies, rolled out in 2010, involved making ID checks a mandatory condition of being granted a license to sell and distribute alcohol. Another involved the options of punitive measures being taken against retailers and venues that were seen as not taking the new legislation seriously enough.

Of course, with the tightening of restrictions came a rise in forged documents and fake IDs, which leads us neatly back to the main subject of this feature.

3.   What Types of Fake IDs Am I Likely to Encounter?

According to the UK government, there are 5 types of false document. These are:

·         A genuine document that is being used by someone other than its true owner.

·         A genuine document that has been somehow altered.

·         A genuine document that has been obtained via fraud.

·         A fake document that is a copy of a genuine document.

·         A fake document that is designed to look genuine but is of a kind that does not actually exist.

Examples may include a younger brother or sister borrowing their sibling’s ID and using it to gain entry to venues and buy alcohol, or a younger person doctoring the ‘date of birth’ information on their card in order to claim that they are older than they are.

It is also possible that a person may scan a real document, then doctor elements of it (such as the date of birth information or photograph) using photo editing software. This can make it look practically indistinguishable from a copy of a genuine document.

Other examples may include an entirely fake ID, created from scratch. A quick Google search for ‘fake driver’s license’ or similar, will instantly deliver a plethora of sites that offer easy ‘how to’ guides for the creation of false documents. There are even downloadable smartphone apps dedicated to this purpose.

4.   Fake IDs and the Law

Several laws cover the use of fake IDs and false documentation; these include the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, the Fraud Act 2006 and the Identity Documents Act 2010.

The Forgery and Counterfeiting Act is pretty straightforward. It basically states that a person is guilty of forgery if they create a false document with the intent of themselves or somebody else passing it off as genuine. The act also deals with counterfeit currency, such as notes or coins. 

The Fraud Act 2006 better defines fraud in the eyes of British law. The act defines three key types of fraud, including false representation (such as would be committed by a person using a fake ID) and unambiguously defines the use of false IDs as a type of fraud.

The Identity Documents Act defines what is meant by ‘identity documents’ (and, by extension, basically tells us what forms of ID are acceptable in various scenarios). It also makes the offense of using (or having in your possession and intending to use) a fake ID or false identity document, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

This law does contain some leniency, however, as it ensures that the punishments are reserved for those people who know that the document is false. It is possible, if a little unlikely, that a person in possession of a fake ID may have no idea that it is a fake. If this could be proven beyond reasonable doubt, the person would not be found to have violated this law.

Finally, it is important not to profile people. A person may look a little ‘rough around the edges’, but this, by itself, is not in any way evidence that their ID is fake. Indeed, the patron in the expensive suit with the perfectly coiffed hair could just as easily be wielding fake documents.

Profiling often stems from the prejudices held, either consciously or unconsciously, by the door staff themselves. If these prejudices come to influence decision making, you could find yourself falling afoul of the Equalities Act 2010, which can be devastating for a business.

It is important that you take each case on its merits and remember that people can always surprise you.

5.   How do I Spot a Fake ID?

Really good forgeries are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. However, there are always giveaways.

The first thing to be aware of is your first impression upon being handed the ID. If it feels somehow ‘off’ – and this could be indefinable at first, it’s worth taking a closer look and trusting your instincts.

You may not know this, but you have about 1,300 nerve endings for every 6-and-a-half square centimetres in your hands. They are truly incredible instruments.

A few years ago, an American team at the University of California determined that the human hand is so sensitive that it can feel the difference between  surfaces that differ by just a thin layer of molecules. You might not know why the ID feels ‘wrong’ in your hand – and it may look perfectly fine, but if you’ve handled enough identical cards, one that is different will probably stand out.

If the card feels too stiff or too floppy, too light or too heavy, rougher, bumpier or even ever-so-slightly bigger or smaller than it ought to be, you may well be handling a fake ID.

Another clue may be in the colouring. If the colours are slightly ‘wrong’ (e.g., if they appear a shade too bright or too dull) you may be looking at a fake ID.

In some cases, such as in instances whereby a young person is using the ID of an older sibling, the person using the fake ID may attempt to alter their appearance in order to match the photo image on the ID. Examples of this may include wearing high heels in order to appear taller, bleaching or dyeing hair and generally dressing to appear older.

In terms of faces, the chin and forehead generally remain constant over time. Our ears and noses, on the other hand, never actually stop growing (because cartilage continues to divide and grow as we age), so these are not always good indicators that a photograph has been faked.

Noses, while usually good for identification, aren’t always 100% reliable, either. A broken nose, for example, can cause the nose’s shape to change dramatically. In addition, rhinoplasty (commonly referred to as a ‘nose job’) is also among the most common forms of plastic surgery available.

Ears that jut out a bit in the photo may have since been pinned back for cosmetic reasons. A person may also age; developing jowls, wrinkles or other lines, or else gain or lose a significant amount of weight, which also changes the face. They may even wear coloured contact lenses, which can change their eye colour.

The chin and the forehead, on the other hand, are unlikely to change much in a person’s lifetime. A forehead may become more visible due to hair loss (for example, in cases of male pattern baldness), but it will still retain the same basic shape and size relative to a person’s face. If these seem ‘right’, then changes in hairstyle, weight or age are probably explainable. Of course, some patrons can grow beards, which can obscure the chin. In such cases, focus more on the nose and forehead.

Remember that a British passport comes up for renewal once every 10 years, as does the photo ID component of a driver’s license. Think about how much you and the people you know have physically changed in the last decade. Conceivably, a person may be using a picture of them that was taken when they were 33 and showing it to you now that they are 43. As you are probably aware, a lot can happen to a person in a decade!

When handing you a fake ID, some people may attempt to distract from the ID itself by making conversation or causing a minor disturbance. Always regard such behaviour as slightly suspicious. It is important to always examine an ID carefully in order to be absolutely certain of its authenticity.

If you have doubts, you might ask the patron to recite some details from the card. A healthy person ought to have no trouble telling you their date of birth or home address (although you should allow for some people to be slightly flustered by the question).

When you request this information, listen for the way in which the person answers. Are they telling you something that’s obvious to them, such as where they live or how old they are, or do they sound like they’re reading from a script? Does the person seem nervous, are they showing any visible signs of lying?

You may also ask patrons to tell you their star sign. This might seem silly, but it can be a good way of catching people out. Whether we follow astrology or not, most of us know our star signs and can recite them without much, if any, effort. So, a person whose ID lists them as being born in February would be either a Pisces or an Aquarius. If they answer with anything else, this could be evidence that they are lying about their date of birth. People who have prepared fake answers can sometimes be caught out this way.

If they can’t answer any questions at all, it goes without saying that this is very suspicious – and should be treated as such.

One other way to tell if an ID is a fake is to request that the patron show you another card from their purse, pocket or wallet. If their ID is giving you reason to doubt them, ask to see (but do not handle) a bank card. If the names on the bank card and the ID don’t match, this could be evidence that the ID is a fake. Wallets can include things like library cards, store cards, membership cards and more besides. At least one of these ought to match the ID being shown if, indeed, that ID is genuine.

6.   What Should I Do If I Find a Fake ID?

As a door supervisor, you have the power to confiscate any illegal items found on the premises. This includes things like drugs, weapons and false documents (illegal under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981).

However, this law only applies if the fake ID is discovered while the patron is inside the venue (i.e., during a door check, spot check or search) or if the venue has a confiscation policy in place.

If the patron is outside the venue when the ID is discovered and the venue does not have a specific policy concerning fake IDs, you will legally have to return the document or else face accusations of theft.

If the document is discovered inside the venue, you do have the power to detain a suspect until the police arrive (although this would be highly irregular). In most cases, door staff simply confiscate the fake ID before escorting the patron from the premises and passing the ID on to the police.

The person attempting to use a fake ID has broken the law. However, you will not be able to perform a Citizen’s Arrest upon them, as those should only be attempted in extreme circumstances such as instances of violent crime or attempted burglary.

On the whole, your course of action upon discovering a fake ID may be determined by a number of factors. The venue may have a strict policy of reporting all fake IDs, as well as those using them, to the police. In which case, this is what you will have to do.

In cases where the venue does not have a specific policy in place, the decision may fall upon you and your conscience. A person caught with a fake ID may face up to 10 years in prison, as well as incurring a large fine. In some cases, you may be able to explain this to the person, especially if they are young. It’s up to you, but sometimes a strong verbal warning can be enough to make sure that person never again breaks the law.

It is worth remembering, however, that bar staff who serve alcohol to minors can face hefty fines themselves, so this is still a serious issue.

Once a fake ID has been viewed or confiscated, it should be recorded in the venue’s incident book. It may also be worth providing a brief physical description of the person who attempted to gain entry with it.

If the ID was confiscated, it must be kept in the same secure place as any other contraband and then passed on to the police at the earliest opportunity.

It is definitely advisable for the venue to put up a written warning about the consequences of carrying false IDs. Not only does this reduce anger or frustration being taken out on door supervisors, it also makes it clear that the person using the fake ID was aware of their transgression and its consequences, which can help in situations that end up going to court. 

7.   Technology that can Help

There are a number of technological innovations that can help you to detect fake IDs. Included among these are ID scanners. These usually take the form of small desktop devices that can scan passports and driver’s licenses quickly and with incredible accuracy.

Smartphones can be used to virtually check people off of a guest list, which also makes formal events slightly safer and easier to manage.

Technology that can help door supervisors in various ways is already widely available, from metal detectors in venues, to a better standard of portable equipment and more besides.

However, nothing has yet been invented that can keep a place as safe as a well-trained, reliable door supervisor with a dedication to their duty and a firm-but-fair demeanour.