At 11:30 p.m. on a cold Friday night, outside an East Village joint with dim red lighting and black-and-white wallpaper, the skinny-jeaned, leather-jacketed, cooler-than-thou crowd waiting to get in is unmistakably young. A bouncer blocks the door, scrutinizing the giggling, wide-eyed group, each prospective customer waiting to pass muster. Each of them carries a plasticized card that, if all goes as planned, will allow them to circumvent the law that would otherwise keep them outside.
The line whittles away as the hawkish bouncer gives each card a hard look followed by a sharp nod. One NYU freshman slips a $5 bill under hers, hoping the bouncer remains discreet and accepts the bribe so that her underage friends, who do not have fake IDs, can follow her into the bar. Seconds later, she and her crew are inside, hip-bumping to Fetty Wap and sipping on sugary mixed drinks (heavy on the flavored vodka).
Such scenes play out across the city again and again at many of its most reputable bars and clubs. Underage college students use fake IDs at dozens of New York City venues, despite the fact that getting caught with a forged document is, under the laws of New York and a number of other states, a felony.
Students under 21 have reported success using fake IDs at such notable clubs as Le Bain at The Standard, PhD, VIP Room, Marquee, Gilded Lily, Avenue, 1OAK, Tao, Le Souk, Up and Down, and Brooklyn’s storied dance club, Output, as well as bars like The 13th Step and Blind Barber, not to mention the city’s countless liquor stores, smoke shops, hookah bars, and restaurants.
It is little wonder that the next item on the college student’s shopping list after twin bed sheets, laundry bags, and dorm room decor are fake IDs. Often, they are purchased on illicit websites based overseas or from friends of friends with connections to local fabricators. The standard fake ID is typically a falsified driver’s license from a state with an easy-to-replicate template like those for Rhode Island or Maryland. Some international students have reported making their own or purchasing IDs directly — and illegally — from government-affiliated transportation or licensing departments in their home countries.
Once upon a time, those in the market for fake IDs could go to St. Mark’s Place, Chinatown, or even Times Square to pick up phony licenses from shady characters involved in more than just selling contraband to kids. Today, the merchandise has become more costly – and far more sophisticated. Fake IDs, which once cost a nominal amount or even nothing for those who modified their own with chalk or cutting-and-pasting at home, now range anywhere from $50 to $150. It is a lucrative niche industry, largely overlooked and effectively condoned. Its illicit websites advertise faux licenses that can fool scanners and pass under UV blacklight. Some sites, like IDGod, go so far as to target only buyers who need licenses that verify an age between 21 and 23 years old. They attempt to capitalize on the underage college market with slogans such as: “Be part of the crowd!”
Those who organize groups on college campuses for bulk ID purchases can earn thousands of dollars with relatively little effort. One NYU student who, as a freshman, arranged sales for a local manufacturer, said that business was so profitable she would have kept it going were it not for the risk factors at play. Now of age as a 22-year-old senior, she asked to remain unnamed for fear of prosecution. During her heydey, she earned over $10,000 in five months from only a half-dozen group sales. “In terms of the money,” she recalled, “it was so awesome.”
While the NYPD’s document fraud units direct their energies towards illegal immigration and other more serious cases, this underestimated aspect of the false documents industry continues to grow. “Fake IDs run a gamut of different things,” said Joe Oliver, a former NYPD officer who was on the force for over 30 years. “Fake IDs can be from going into a bar just to be able to drink to having a whole new identity using identification,” he said. He was referring to the countless cases of fake birth certificates, car registrations, and passports he saw while on the job serving the borough of Queens.
“I got into NYU, next step was setting up a solid fake ID.”
Local manufacturers have stepped up production practices to compete with the quality licenses that internationally based websites like IDGod produce. One 20-year-old student fabricator in New York City said that the most difficult part of running his local business is finding a partner adept at applying the blacklight and hologram to the face of an ID. He too asked that his name be withheld.
The student handles the initial photoshopping steps of the process. Using the “Ultimate Fake ID Guide 2014,” an online resource that can only be downloaded via torrent, he chooses a state driver’s license template — usually New Jersey — and adds to its format his customer’s name, altered date of birth and correct height, eye color, and photo. His partner then uses a special printer to fuse the blacklight layer onto the card. A complicated system of lamination adds the hologram. It’s possible to apply holograms in the form of stickers but they have a tendency to peel or gather dirt around the edges, defects that make them easy to spot.
Locally fabricated IDs are delivered securely, most often by the maker himself or a trusted friend. However, NYU freshmen who purchased IDs from websites have reported receiving their IDs slipped between the folds of a cardboard box, sewn into a teddy bear, tucked among playing cards in a deck, or, in one freshman’s case, haphazardly sent in an envelope with what looked like sheets of handwritten math homework.
One student interviewed had a particularly memorable anecdote: “I got my first fake ID in Chinatown, and they pushed back a fake wall, and you get it [there]. And the way they’re legally able to do it is that they print on the back, “This is not a government document,” and then they advise you, with nail polish remover, to rub it off. It was an awful fake, but it worked.”
Underage international students using home country IDs have a significantly easier time—either using fakes or fooling bouncers not versed in foreign languages or European month-date-year notation—getting into over-21 venues all over New York.
One such student made his own IDs for years. Ricardo Spinola, now a 22-year-old NYU senior, started making fake IDs when he was still in high school in Mexico City, partially for fun, and partially to satisfy the want to go out with friends who were just beginning to explore local nightlife. At first, he tried his hand at scanning and editing the passports and other official identification documents of his friends using Adobe Photoshop or Mac Preview, at no charge. Then, he tried his hand at lamination.
“Have you ever seen an ID from France?” Spinola asked. “It’s like a laminated piece of paper.” Spinola created a replica with nothing but a simple laminating machine purchased from Office Depot and the help of a friend who supplied his photo editing skills to the project. “The template for the [French] ID, it’s all over the Internet and it’s very easy to make, very easy to fake,” he said, “and they looked pretty legit compared to the actual ones.”
Spinola’s last forged ID before becoming of age was purchased. The summer before he arrived at NYU, he said he paid “some sketchy guy” 2,000 pesos (about $113) for a fake Mexican ID that was not very sophisticated. “I could’ve done better,” he said, “I don’t even know why I spent so much money on that.” All the same, from the moment he arrived in New York City that ID never failed him.
A number of students—including those from Mexico and others from countries as diverse as Venezuela, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines—remarked on the easier time they have when presenting IDs to bouncers than students with falsified U.S. identification. Some even find it frustrating to go out with their underage American friends who put themselves at greater risk when presenting fake state driver’s licenses. “I have many friends from America who are actually scared of using their IDs in fear of it being taken away and the cops being called on them,” one student said.
Leone Camerana crafted his own fake Italian ID using paper, a little glue, and a free online photo editor. It was never questioned once during his two years at a British boarding school, he said, but he decided to have one professionally made for his freshman year at NYU. The manufacturer he chose was a London-based Russian fabricator in his mid-30s, who had made a Latvian fake for one of Camerana’s friends. Out of the multiple countries the manufacturer offered, Camerana ordered a false U.K. license (an “investment,” in his words, of £350), complete with his own name, signature, address, and photo. “It was the requirement,” he said. “It was literally like, I got into NYU, next step was setting up a solid fake ID.”
He said his bought ID has worked at “bars left and right” and clubs like Output and Up and Down. He has only been turned away once, at a Japanese bar on 9th Street. In that instance, he attempted entry with another underage friend but the bouncer stopped them, confiscated the IDs, and told them to come back 40 minutes later. At that point, he asked them each for $20, after which he gave the IDs back. This side ritual, of bouncers seeming to adhere to the law only to turn around and request a bribe later, is just as common as their not spotting a fake.
Ignacio remarked on the many of the international students he knows come from countries where alcohol has not been demonized for youth in the way it has been for their American counterparts. Many of his international friends have been drinking socially since their early teens, as custom and law in their home countries allow. “I guess for most of my friends who are Filipino, it’s not a big deal, because we’re not eager to drink because we drink all the time at home,” he said. “I find that with American kids, they’re more eager to drink because they’re not allowed to, so the novelty is there.”
There are several reasons why international IDs have an easier time passing through the roped gates. Spinola, among others, noted how the unfamiliarity of bouncers with the formats of foreign IDs can work for the underage student. The inverted month and date of European notation can enable the real IDs of international students in their 21st year but who have not yet reached their 21st birthday to get them past unknowing bouncers. One student’s December 4 birthday on her Albanian ID was written 4/12/1994. By April 12, she was good to go. “I actually ‘became 21’ way before I actually became 21,” she said with a chuckle. She had decided against getting a fake ID for fear of losing her visa status.
Ignacio was undeterred when he heard about the confiscation of his cousin’s fake Filipino ID and the $20 bribe he had to pay to retrieve it. “I honestly think it’s because he didn’t fight back,” Ignacio said. “I’d be like, ‘That’s an international license. That’s my form of identification. You’re not qualified to take that. Call the Philippines if you think it’s fake, call them. You know, I can sue you.’ In America, they get so scared when you say ‘sue,’” Ignacio said, brimming with hypothetical confidence.
In Manila, Ignacio’s home city, Recto Avenue is the place of choice for procuring fabricated documents. “You can go there and they make fake passports, fake licenses, everything” he said. Fake IDs sell for $3 to $5—a veritable bargain, even with the surcharge of up to $15 that Ignacio and his friends paid for pickup and delivery. Except for the altered birthdate, the fake is such a convincing replica of his actual license that it even came with a receipt identical to the one he received with his real license.
Students from Venezuela who purchased fake driver’s licenses in Caracas said that obtaining one takes no more than knowing someone who works at the Institute of Traffic and Land Transportation who is willing to produce a few extra IDs off the books.For $120, Venezuelans got fake IDs as early as their 16th birthdays to bypass the country’s 18-and-over drinking age. More often than not, these same documents have worked perfectly for these students at various New York venues.
The only real issue, then, is the risk it poses to their immigration status. “The implications are, basically, if an international student is arrested or cited, even, then that could put their immigration status in difficulty,” said Sherif Barsoum, assistant vice president and director of NYU’s Office of Global Services, which is the dedicated resource on campus for NYU’s 13,000 international students. Barsoum has only seen a handful of cases himself, including one NYU student who accidentally submitted a fake passport, but overall, “many of them…have it from their own country, so it’s difficult to catch.”
Mark Wais, the Vice President for Student Affairs at NYU, said that while the university does its best to warn students against using fake IDs, their use is widespread. Where the university gets involved, he said, are when incidents occur with students returning to their dorms after long nights of drinking at clubs or bars.
“Cases of alcohol, either being in possession of alcohol or consuming alcohol, are handled at the local level,” Wais said, adding that this was true in 85 to 90 percent of all cases. “The only way it gets bumped up is if it’s accompanied by sexual assault or violence,” he added. “Then that will get bounced up to the Community Standards Office.”
While underage drinking is against university policy, and repeated infractions on campus can be addressed more severely, Wais said the university does not currently have an explicit policy banning the possession of fraudulent documents, although it is implicit in the expectation stated in the University Rules of Conduct that all members of the university community uphold city, state, and federal laws.
In fact, the university typically only encounters cases like these through reports forwarded to NYU by the NYPD, which has a working relationship with the school’s Office of Public Safety. Adam Fertmann, the associate director of NYU’s community standards and compliance office, said that only certain situations warrant Public Safety referring the case to the Office of Community Standards. He declined to offer any specifics. “Technically,” he said, “if it’s an incident that occurs off-campus, it’s usually something that’s out of our jurisdiction for our conduct process. So in that situation, there would be no formal student conduct action taken.”
The university’s response, he said, is more informal. “We’ll meet with the student and sort of have more of an educational conversation with them about why this might be a bad idea, what they learned from this, those sorts of things […] it’s not like you’re getting punished for it,” Fertmann said. “It’s more of an advisory conversation with them.” Unless a student is caught manufacturing or selling IDs to students on campus, he said, it is likely that little action will be taken within the university itself.
Jeremy Saland, a criminal defense attorney at Crotty Saland PC and former Manhattan prosecutor, has seen hundreds of cases of criminal possession of forged instruments. Dozens, he said, involved underage college students using fake IDs to drink in public places. Saland said of all the cases he knows of in which a first-time offender, like a college student, got caught using a fake ID to enter an over-21 venue, “I cannot think of one time that they were convicted of a misdemeanor.”
On paper, city and state regulations are more rigorous. Having a fake ID is tied to charges of fraud and forgery. The felony status of possessing forged documents, however, is rarely leveled on those whose purpose is to sneak into nightlife venues, which could be considered a victimless crime. The victim, after all, is usually the perpetrator him or herself.
Saland said a misdemeanor still means a criminal record, one that can haunt and hinder career goals in virtually any professional sector. And, Saland said, “nobody that I can think of wants to see these young people hurt, we’ll say, or damaged to the point where it follows them forever and cripples their ability to have a future.”
Cases where underage offenders are caught with fake IDs typically result in non-criminal violations or adjournments in contemplation of dismissal, or ACDs, which means that so long as the offender does not commit a crime within six months, the case will be sealed and dismissed. Often, some form of community service is tagged on to either ruling, Saland said, but not a criminal charge.
“There is nothing in the state curriculum on fake IDs.”
Since 2008, following the murder of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen by a bouncer at a SoHo bar, New York State law has mandated that bouncers receive training to become licensed security guards. This requirement applies to a wide range of security professionals, from the white-haired gentlemen scrutinizing tourists entering the Empire State Building lobby to the burly, beanie-wearing doormen acting as human blockades at the doors of the city’s hottest clubs.In general, New York and most other states that consider possession of a forged document a felony are quick to give first-time offenders minimal sentences, but there is no real effort to train bartenders, shopkeepers, and bouncers in how to recognize a fake, nor is it a legal requirement that they undergo specific training in this area.
Nearly 100 training centers exist in New York City alone, with hundreds more across the rest of the state. According to the Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services, unarmed security guards are required to receive an 8-hour “Pre-Assignment” training course and 16 hours of on-the-job training “relevant to the duties of guards, requirements of the work site, and the needs of the employer,” reads the website. To stay eligible for license renewal, guards must complete eight more hours of training every year. However, the courses do not seem to include a unit on ID spotting.
Pre-assignment training covers introductory topics — the roles of security guards, legal powers and limitations, communications and public relations, access control, ethics and conduct, and emergency situations. On-the-job training covers more of the same, adding to the list report writing, incident overview, command systems, and terrorism-related topics. Yet, none of the xxx bouncers interviewed had received more than “pointers” on how to accurately tell if an ID was fake.
“There is nothing in the state curriculum on fake IDs,” said Robert C. Smith, president and CEO of Nightclub Security Consultants. He was talking about New York State’s lenient regulations for licensing bouncers. “The city thinks they’ve got a fix. The politician is very happy: ‘Look what I made people do to be safer!’ Except if you talk to the guards, if you talk to any club owner,” he said, “they know that it means nothing.”
Based in San Diego, Smith’s company serves the nightlife industry worldwide, providing job-specific training for bouncers and consultation services for industry professionals. He said that besides California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Louisiana, which recently began requiring job-specific training, nearly every state has bouncer training laws as generic as New York’s.
Bouncers working in the East Village area confirmed that their training courses, taken mostly in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Long Island, did not include explicit instructions for spotting fake IDs. From their accounts, most rely on intuition, experience, and the results of handheld scanners provided by the establishment — methods that, in the face of rapidly developing technology, are becoming less and less reliable.
PatronScan is a leader when it comes to scanning systems. The Canadian company’s website declares their product “the world’s best ID scanner.” In addition to advanced scanning hardware — a podium-like device with a touch screen offering a range of functions — customers are provided with software that links PatronScan’s network together in real time, giving them a way to stay perpetually informed of systematic threats.
These threats are far greater than the average college student presenting a fake for the chance to drink. The system instantly pulls information from the ID like the bearer’s name, date of birth, and if the ID has ever been scanned at the given venue. It protects against those the system has previously banned at any venue it tracks, providing information about that ban, whether it was for having or distributing drugs in the venue, over-intoxication, or starting a fight.
Graham Lancaster, the director of sales and marketing at ServAll Biometrics, PatronScan’s parent company, gave an example of how the system works. On Saturday, April 2, he said, the 143,000 visitors to PatronScan-equipped venues across North America generated 128 fake ID alerts along with 1,800 “double-scan” alerts, of which only 5 to 10 percent represented illicit acts. These include “ID passing,” which is when two people use the same ID to bypass club security and “ID sharing,” which means, say, an older brother uses his driver’s license to enter a club and lends his young sibling his military I.D. Both events trigger PatronScan’s “double-scan” alert, confirmed by the real-time photo the machine takes on the spot so the bouncer can make the comparison. And yet, of 37,000 patrons banned by PatronScan’s system, only a small percentage have been people stopped for using fake or borrowed IDs.
“Fake IDs and dealing with them is kind of like an arms race,” Lancaster said. “As we know, fake IDs are always changing and getting better and better, so on the leading edge, you’re going to have fake IDs that will go right through an ID scanner, even the world’s best, and be approved.”
So, even with costly, cutting-edge technology (PatronScan’s complete service is an over-$4,500 annual investment), venues are still limited when it comes to vetting their customers. “An information system and an ID scanner are not a substitute for vigilant and trained security. They add information so you can make better decisions, but they don’t replace your ability to observe patrons, body language, and there are certain things an ID scanner can’t do,” Lancaster said, including ferret out the actual identity of someone with a laminated one.
One bouncer — a former detective — interviewed at a Union Square bar said that his training class only gave him vague “dos” and “don’ts” about fake ID-spotting. To supplement, he self-educates by buying the I.D. Checking Guide, an annually-updated source for businesses, government agencies, and law enforcement professionals. Available for purchase online, the guide documents the color and size of each state license and provides facsimiles of true state IDs.
But Smith said the guide, a one-dimensional, highly technical look at the range of state IDs, is not enough to combat rapid improvement in fake ID quality. “Those books are good to show you what a good ID looks like,” Smith said, “But what if it’s borrowed? What if it’s the newer Chinese fake ID, that use real hologram, that use blacklight, that use microprinting, that scan?”
Smith, who works with some PatronScan-equipped venues, echoed Lancaster’s point that ID verification technology, sophisticated as it may be, is no match for an individually trained and educated door host.
Unfortunately, New York City has few such bouncers. Most city venues use handheld barcode scanners, free “ID scanner” smartphone apps, or good old-fashioned eyes to determine ID veracity. Bouncers interviewed who do their jobs without scanners seemed confident in their abilities, saying they had seen hundreds and gotten to know the “nuances” of each state and country license.
New York State laws surrounding nightclub security staff seem to presume that employers have responsibility for the competence of their bouncers. However, job-specific training like Smith’s is rare in the New York region. The Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, known as ESRTA, a grassroots organization that represents New York’s liquor-licensed establishments, offers several online courses for alcohol servers and sellers.
“ID Checkpoint” costs $4.99 and takes 25 minutes online to complete. It is the course devoted entirely to recognizing fake forms of identification and is the fastest, cheapest, and most focused of the three courses on the association’s website that offer training in fake ID-spotting. It covers how to spot altered, counterfeit, forged, and stolen identification, and how to properly ask challenge questions. It addresses situations in which falsehood is difficult to prove. It also instructs registrants to keep in mind that there are more reasons for suspicion than how old a person might appear to be.
“Be aware of choices in clothing and adornments, which may indicate that the person is underage,” it reads. Such adornments, the course instructs, can include “grooming styles such as extreme fashions favored by some young people (“punk,” “gangsta,” or “rave” etc.).” The course spends several sections detailing how minors look and act. It discusses the behavioral cues they tend to exhibit: “If the minor is with a loud, boisterous group, he or she will tend to act in a similar manner. If members of the group are acting out or behaving in socially unacceptable ways, the minor tends to mimic this behavior,” the lesson reads.
Other ways to identify if an ID is fake, the course explains, are noticing physical changes, like erasure marks or signs of cutting and pasting information, as in the most tell-tale efforts. But, in the world of digitally enhanced, well-executed fakes, these methods are practically obsolete. While the course covers counterfeit IDs, saying that they might have off-color photos or “too-perfect” graphics, its most concrete recommendations for professionals faced with counterfeit or out-of-state IDs are to purchase the I.D. Checking Guide and to ask for “familiar documentation” and refuse service if it cannot be produced.
The course culminates in a five-question assessment. A 70 percent score or higher ensures a certificate of completion. In the case of a wrong answer, the system does not allow the student to see the correct response, but simply issues a “pass” and a printable digital certificate of completion if the minimum percentage is reached.
Several other organizations like the National Hospitality Training LLC and the American Safety Council offer similar courses for New York clients. The $16.95 “on-premise” courses are approved by the New York State Liquor Authority and are offered in coordination with the Alcohol Training Awareness Program. Bars, restaurants, clubs, caterers, and event venues are all strongly encouraged to take them, but no laws mandate them to do so.
Smith, of Nightclub Security Consultants, mused about what a low priority this kind of training is for proprietors. “If I’m a bar owner,” he said, “and I’ve gotta worry about menus, entertainment, lighting, uniforms, my drink menu, my VIPs, TMZ, what the hell time do I have to worry about finding someone to train my guards on IDs?” He added that the New York City venue owners he works with often request additional personal staff training when he is in town. “They want it, trust me,” he said, but reliable non-governmental training simply “doesn’t exist.”
Some bouncers err on the side of caution, confiscating known fake IDs and photocopying them before grudgingly giving them back to their owners at closing time when they tell them to return and retrieve them. Some venues keep them, accumulating stacks of fake IDs and repurposing them for internal bouncer training. But opportunistic bouncers, like the one Camerana and his friend encountered at the Japanese bar, are more common than not.
A former bouncer who asked that his name be withheld worked for several years in the early 2000s at a now-closed Upper East Side bar called Aces and Eights. “If you knew what you were doing you could get away with anything,” he said of those days. “Sometimes me and another [bouncer] would charge the underage kids to come in. We’d be like, ‘It’s a $20 cover tonight’ and just pocket the money.” In other cases, is someone in line gave them a hard time, they would confiscate the ID and exact a $60 bribe for its return to the fuming Upper-East-Sider hurling “Do-you-know-who-my-parents-are”s into the air.
A number of the holders of underage fake ID who were interviewed recounted similar experiences with bouncers at venues across the city. One student recalled a bouncer at the door of CO-OP, a popular restaurant-club hybrid in the Hotel Rivington, who demanded $60 to return her Washington State fake, which a friend paid for her. Unfazed, she rounded the block and spent the rest of her night at a neighboring club called Libation, which she entered without incident. “One hundred percent, it’s about confidence,” said one student about the games underage students and bouncers play time and time again at club doors.
Students are usually willing to pay up to the original cost of their IDs to retrieve them from club staff. Knowing this, bouncers, despite the obvious risk of losing their jobs, know how to price their bribes or concocted “cover charges.”
Promoters who are hired by nightclubs and bars to spread the word about the venues are often complicit in allowing underaged patrons into the venues. The students report paying promoters informal cover charges of up to $40 per person to enter venues like Up & Down, the Gansevoort, Gilded Lily, and the 13th Step without their IDs being questioned. The cash payment is usually pushed from hand to hand through densely packed bodies at the club’s roped gates, or passed discreetly to the promoter in a shady corner around the block from the entrance. Sometimes these fees are shared between promoter and bouncer.
“It’s not that they can’t tell, it’s that it doesn’t matter.”
Levi Zolman is a 21-year-old promoter who has worked as much as six nights a week at venues such as PhD, Le Bain, Goldbar, 1OAK, Avenue—“basically everywhere, at one point or another,” he said. He knows a lot about how the system works. His task it to bring groups into the clubs that fit the venues’ social profile. Zolman began promoting—or “hosting,” as he likes to call it—when he was only 18. If you look closely, Zolman said, the club entry game is “so much all about politics.” When he started promoting, he always had a fake ID, as did most of the friends he brought to the venues where he hosted. But by knowing the right people in the industry and earning the trust of the door staff, being underaged did not get in his way, though not without some minor stumbles.
“I did get four IDs taken away,” he said, chuckling as he thought back to his heyday. “But none of them were at nightclubs, they were all [taken] at bars. And that was in three years, and I was going out seven days a week to multiple venues.”
Most of the time, the unspoken “contract” Zolman picked up on between promoters, door staff, and clubgoers was simple: “As long as you look nice and you carry yourself well,” he said, “you’re not clearly wasted and you don’t show up in a group of, like, fifty underage people, they don’t usually give you a problem.” This was especially true of tall, long-legged pretty girls, who Zolman said were on par with underaged students with foreign fakes for having the easiest time entering clubs. (One such girl was seen entering a club on the strength of her Metrocard.) “You can have a fucking piece of cardboard with your picture glued on to it and you just flash it, and they’ll let you in,” he said.
An overarching issue is the primary objective of the clubs and the directives that get handed down to bouncers. These often override the concern of bouncers about the age of patrons. “Most of the time,” Zolman insisted, “it’s not that they can’t tell, it’s that it doesn’t matter.”
He said he remembered a time when a bouncer looking at the ID of a girl he was with said to her, “‘Be honest with me. How old are you?’ And she was like, ‘I’m 20,’ and he was like, ‘Okay,’ because she didn’t lie,” Zolman said.
Like Smith, Zolman saw scanners as less of an obstacle to entrance than they appear to be since it often meant that the bouncer had no specific training other than how to use the machine. “I always say be afraid of the people that don’t have anything,” he said, “because they’re the ones that actually know, usually.”
It’s important to note that falsified identification has much wider criminal implications than the more petty acts of college kids. Joe Croce is a retired NYPD detective who worked with the force’s Special Fraud Squad specializing in bank, credit card, and check fraud cases. In his day, he said, “Fake IDs went hand in hand with all of those investigations, because a lot of it was identity theft.” Over his last seven years with the police department, he and his partner developed relationships with major banks, insurance companies, and security companies in their efforts to combat fraud. He said criminals regularly stole identities through fake identification to make online purchases, open bank accounts, and deposit fraudulent checks for thousands of dollars at a time.
Among the ID websites college students frequent are those that tout not only fake driver’s licenses, but fake passports and other government documentation, some of which could provide enough backup for individuals to obtain an actual driver’s licenses from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In a society perpetually troubled by such threats, and a city once broken by them, security measures remain surprisingly vague. Smith went so far as to say that he thinks bouncers are actually “on the forefront of the war on terror because they’re the ones screening IDs, not just the Customs and Border Protection people.” A vigilant bouncer, by Smith’s reckoning, could be scrutinizing the fake IDs that come into his hands for reasons well beyond spotting the underaged.
Bouncers, Smith continued, have the potential to serve as a source of protection against the “soft targets” terrorists often choose, the bars, hotels, restaurants, and concert halls that lack continuous law enforcement supervision. “He’s going to go to the soft targets, surveil them, try to enter them,” Smith said, “and a smart bouncer will know that he’s using a fake ID and will put up a major roadblock against this terrorist that’s trying to enter his venue.”
And yet, as things stand, bouncers remain largely unschooled in being able to discern what separates a freshman’s technicolor Indiana fake from the battered, faded but authentic Jersey ID that some 23-year-old has been flashing at clubs three nights a week since he legally could. Even the security personnel who guard the entrances of New York’s most important buildings are not expected under current law to know the difference.
“What’s going to change the regulations won’t be a 20 year old getting caught in a bar,” Smith said. “The change won’t come from that. The change will come when we have a similar attack to Paris on our country’s soil, and it’ll come out that bouncers had interactions with these guys but didn’t know how to catch a fake China ID. All of a sudden they’ll be thrust into the limelight as the people that should have been trained to protect the obvious soft targets.”