Fake driver's licenses tougher and tougher to ID

Scott Keenan of Keenan's Irish Pub in North Wildwood shows off two of the hundreds of fake IDs confiscated at his bar (Gregg Kohl/For the Daily News)
Scott Keenan of Keenan's Irish Pub in North Wildwood shows off two of the hundreds of fake IDs confiscated at his bar (Gregg Kohl/For the Daily News)
Posted: March 14, 2011

MAKE UP a name, snap a mug shot in front of a blue towel and send it to China with $200. Abracadabra, you're 21.

The China-based website www.idchief.com sells IDs that look a lot like Pennsylvania and New Jersey driver's licenses. And police, government agencies and bar owners in both states are seeing red.

ID Chief claims it's just a novelty business, selling items like rubber chickens and fake mustaches. Except that the items they acutally sell are more expensive and illegal to use, like a fancy glass bong packed with nontobacco products.

New Jersey licenses are available on the site "after months in the making" - and the Pennsylvania license, the company claims, is the most authentic ID it makes.

"ANYONE CAN HAVE IT, THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS," the company says on a legal disclaimer published on a separate website. "What you do with it is up to you. Sometimes you just need to have a novelty ID for movies or what not."

Movies . . . yeah, or sometimes you just need one to go to spring break for entertainment purposes only, or to board a plane with bad intentions.

"These IDs are good. It's terrible," said Scott Keenan, owner of Keenan's Irish Pub in North Wildwood.

The "good" IDs are bad for the bar business, Keenan said, because owners take the biggest hit when the underage are busted. In recent years, he has confiscated hundreds of fake IDs, but he's also been shut down by the state and says he has spent about $900,000 in legal fees and fines after some underage drinkers slipped past his defenses.

"Some sophomores just ordered 15 of them," said a 21-year-old college student in Pennsylvania who asked not to be identified.

ID Chief is one of many websites that fuel Keenan's "personal vendetta" against fake IDs and the people who use them. ID Chief creates licenses for several states, complete with holograms and ultraviolet images that bar employees look for when examining an ID. It's yet another flare-up in the technological battle between bars and illicit-ID brokers.

"I don't want them to know it's hard for us to figure it out, but the technology is getting more and more scary," said Mike Driscoll, owner of Finnigan's Wake, a bar at 3rd and Spring Garden streets in Northern Liberties.

Authorities in New Jersey are skeptical of ID Chief's claims.

"We have not seen a counterfeit New Jersey digital license that passes for a real one," said Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.

Mike Horan, a spokesman for New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission, said that investigators are aware of ID Chief but that ID Chief isn't aware of "covert" features built into each legit license.

"There's things that I don't even know about," he said.

ID Chief also claims that its products are legal to make - at least in China - and who can argue with them? A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on overseas ID manufacturers or whether the U.S. tries to shut them down.

It's not even clear whether it's illegal for a 19-year-old collegian to buy a fake ID or actually possess it - the real trouble is using it and getting caught. The anonymous college student from Pennsylvania said an officer took his fake ID - a phony Florida license ordered from "some guy" on the Internet - when he was in the Sunshine State during spring break last year. He didn't get in trouble for it, he said.

"I told him I never used it for alcohol, and that it was just a novelty ID," he said.

In New Jersey, penalties for underage drinking include fines and a potential loss of license. In Pennsylvania, possessing a fake ID to purchase alcohol also can result in fines, loss of license and possibly even jail time if you're a repeat offender.

Stacy Kriedeman, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said 1.1 million "minor checks" were made in the state last year. That's when a clerk scans an ID to cross-check the vital info on it.

"One ID said the person was 57 feet tall," she said.

Not everyone who buys a fake ID is interested in pumping a fist and a light beer on Columbus Boulevard, either. Some might be hell-bent on destruction or on working in the United States.

"Obviously a driver's license can be a breeder document for the establishment for a false identity," said Special Agent J.J. Klaver of the FBI in Philadelphia. "It's obviously an issue we're very interested in."

The Daily News e-mailed ID Chief to ask if someone could discuss the product.

"We cannot do it for you sorry," was the e-mailed reply. "Any problem, you can just contact us via e-mail."

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