Thanks to technology and the desire among minors to drink, the production of false driver licenses and ID's is flourishing. New computer software and the Internet have opened many bar doors to college students who are not of legal drinking age.
Fake ID's have been part of the college scene since the 1970s. When many states raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, students were shut out of bars, unable to participate in what many of them considered an important part of the college experience. They soon found ways to make or purchase look-alike ID's.
The Internet has exacerbated the problem. Minors, like Samantha, can purchase a new identity from websites that customize identification documents.
One website sells a program called Fake ID 1.0. It is available for Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0 and costs $50. The site declares "Fake ID 1.0 can create exact replicas of real driver's licenses from any color printer! You will be able to recreate the front and back of any driver license issued in the United States (all 50 states)."
A legal disclaimer says, "Printing and usage of any legal documents is against the law."
Customers who supply a credit card number will receive the program and "complete instructions that can make all of your dreams a reality."
Another website that makes only Arizona, Colorado and ASU student ID's charges $90. The ID's come with the magnetic strip and holograms. The site's Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page says the holograms are accurate and produced with a metallic-ink watermark process.
The customer prints out an order form, and sends it in with a check and headshot photographed against the appropriate color background (light blue for Arizona, light gray for Colorado).
According to the website in two weeks a package from "Eastcom, Inc." should arrive in the mail.
Cydney DeModica, the public information officer for the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division, said in a recent interview that she was unaware of the websites. Requesting the sites' addresses, she said they are "definitely worth checking out."
In an attempt to keep ahead of the duplicators, MVD has produced a credit card-style license that includes a magnetic strip, holograms and a barcode. The magnetic strip and barcode confirm that the information printed on the license is valid, while the hologram provides visual proof of validity, DeModica said.
Although fake ID's might not be spotted by bar or restaurant personnel, they can be identified immediately if they are called in by police or the ID is scanned by a machine programmed to read the magnetic strip.
DeModica said MVD officials believed it was impossible to duplicate this new license, but Officer Michael Proctor of the Tucson Police Department isn't so sure. He has had to take a suspected fake driver's license to the MVD.
"I was suspicious of the guy, so I called in his driver's license number, but there was no record of it. I took it down to the MVD and they told me, 'God, it really looks like the ones we make,' " Proctor says.
Proctor has heard of the websites that offer fake ID's, but says he has no information.
TPD Sgt. Ken Thomson says that because Internet crimes are a federal offense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation deals with them, not local police.
Websites aren't the only source of authentic-looking fake ID's.
Ellen Mahon, associate professor of graphic design at the University of Arizona, says the older driver's licenses are extremely easy to duplicate because their graphics aren't elaborate and can be duplicated by anyone with a computer and Adobe Photoshop. This image-manipulating software costs about $600 for the new version and is available at any computer or office supply store, Mahon says.
One former ID maker, known as Omar, explained recently how he used Photoshop to make genuine-looking Arizona driver's licenses.
First, he scanned a real license into his computer to use as a template. Omar then scanned a photo of the Arizona state seal he found in an encyclopedia and shrank it with Photoshop so it fit on the license.
At this point, the text and graphics are sharper than those on the real license, where details are blurred or faded. Omar corrected these problems by using a Photoshop tool called median blur. It makes text and pictures less crisp, causing a slightly faded effect.
Omar printed the images on photographic paper using a dye-sublimation printer. The printer can match colors better than other color printers, making the licenses appear even more authentic.
Omar laminated the licenses and sold them to UA or Pima students for $60 each. Omar made about 20 ID's and $1,400. He stopped making ID's when he lost access to some of the computer hardware he needed.
Using computers to make fake ID's has not been an option for college students for very long. Students in the '80s used household items instead.
Chad McWhinnie, 29, felt left out of college life as an 18-year-old freshman at Boston College in the late '80s.
"Wednesday through Saturday, the dorms would empty out, except for me. Everyone was enjoying the Boston nightlife."
McWhinnie "poked around and found somebody who supposedly made good fake ID's."
When he went to the apartment to buy one, McWhinnie found "four old window shades glued together. On the shades was a huge photograph of a Vermont license taped to it. The area where the person's photo is normally placed was cut out. I stood in that hole, the photo was taken with my head in the hole and it was cut to the size of a license."
The low-quality fake worked until McWhinnie became too embarrassed to use it.
When Samantha (not her real name) wanted an ID in 1997, the friend who manufactured it had only a slightly more elaborate system.
"My only job was to go to the Motor Vehicle Division and get an identification card," Samantha says.
Her friend used an Exacto knife to scratch off the last number of her birthday and the last number of the "under 21 until" date. The two numbers needed to make Samantha 21 were cut from photocopies of another ID. The photocopied numbers were placed where the real numbers had been. Samantha's friend put a piece of tape over the top of the ID and peeled it back. The number was now stuck to the tape. The tape was put under hot water, causing the paper number to fall off, but allowing the ink to stick to the tape. The tape was put back over the ID.
"It worked at most places, but I would get doubtful glances from some of the local bouncers," Samantha says.
Because driver's licenses and ID's from each state are different, a guidebook is published each year to help identify fakes. The ID Checking Guide is produced by the Driver's Guide Co., a private corporation in Redwood City, Calif., and sold for $19.95 each to bars, restaurants and banks. President Keith Doerge says the guide prevents college students from purchasing an ID from a faraway state in hopes that the bartender may not be familiar with the document's design.
But Doerge acknowledges that "you can get an ID for $50 on the streets of Los Angeles that is a sophisticated duplicate and would be hard to tell just by looking at the book."
No matter what the state does to make the license harder to duplicate, people quickly learn to copy it because they have access to similar technology, he explains.
"The game goes on and on," Doerge says.
Samantha has been at the bar for two hours and has had about five drinks. Her hair is disheveled and her eyes appear to be floating in their sockets. She is unconcerned about breaking the law.
Her face beams and her words slur slightly as she justifies her behavior.
"I love the scene. I don't think that I should be prevented from drinking because I am 20. My friend is 22, and I think I have the same right that she has to be here. I work hard in school and if this is the way I choose to have fun, then I will."