The incident came to light when the unidentified dean opened a package from Guangzhou, China, that contained a small lime-green picture frame. Further examination discovered eight realistic - but fraudulent - identification cards made for four 18-year-old male students inside the back cover. The dean contacted authorities.
The false identification cards, looking very much like official documents from Maryland and Connecticut, were to be used to get into bars, said Lt. Christopher Flanagan of Radnor police.
Police are not identifying the students or the university, Flanagan said. Villanova University, Cabrini College, Eastern University, and Valley Forge Military Academy and College are all in the township.
"It's more than underage drinking," Flanagan said.
Similar high-quality identification cards have been used in other crimes, including credit card or check fraud, and forgery. Flanagan said such documents can also be used to fill out credit card applications, as identification in scams on the elderly, and occasionally in terroristic crimes.
"It is very easy to get a fake ID," said Detective Christopher Gluck, the lead investigator on the case.
The students bought the cards on an on-again, off-again website that has recently made a comeback. While investigators do not know the location of the website operator, the package was shipped from China in late December, Gluck said.
The four students are cooperating, Flanagan said. While there are potential criminal penalties, the students have not been charged, he said.
But they are not off the hook.
The university has followed up with the students' parents. The students have been offered counseling, and they could face sanctions for violating school codes, Flanagan said.