ABC agents train on fake ID detection in Hampton Roads
But glamorizing this as a “rite of passage” needs to stop, said David Huff, senior special agent for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
In a post Sept. 11 world, the same online sites and technology that make fake IDs for youth are also producing them for criminals and potential terrorists, he said.
Security experts say false IDs are increasing in sophistication with security features and some web based manufacturers promising machine scannable counterfeit cards. The concern for law enforcement isn’t just underage drinking, but other crimes connected to false IDs or documents including fraud, credit card theft and the manufacture of methamphetamines.
That’s why Huff and the state ABC department continually train officers at the Hampton Roads Regional Academy for Criminal Justice and across the state. Doing so can lead to a misdemeanor arrest and a criminal record that could keep future employers, particularly the government, from hiring an offender.
“They are giving that ID with the intent to establish a false identity, which makes it a very serious offense,” Huff said.
The new Virginia driver’s licenses with laser engraved security features and holograms is harder to replicate, so the longtime method of borrowing someone else’s ID is increasing in popularity, officials said.
But with just 100 ABC agents working the commonwealth and more than 16,000 retailers in the state licensed to sell alcohol, id chief the department relies on business owners to enforce the use of proper identification.
That guard is a cop
Nine times out of 10, the fake ID is a valid borrowed one, said general manager Chris Tucker of the Steelhouse Tavern at 14346 Warwick Blvd., in Newport News
Tucker said Steelhouse has one of the best doormen in the area, but the main deterrent to underage drinkers is hiring off duty police officers as security in the parking lot.
In a weekend where 200 to 300 people could fill the tavern, security will come across three to four fake IDs, he said. Most would be customers who are turned away have cracked or damaged cards.
Additionally, Steelhouse has hired a retired ABC agent as a consultant to keep up to date on law changes and for checking the latest in fake ID tactics. If a bouncer is new, the agent works alongside him for training, Tucker said.
The local scene
Most underage people trying to get into the Sandbar Grill and Pub at 736 J. Clyde Morris Blvd. either borrow an ID or alter an old one, said manager Randy O’Neill. But with the new Virginia licenses, that’s not easy to do anymore.
O’Neill said he personally sees between 50 and 100 fake IDs in a year. So far this year, he’s caught about 20. Most Sandbar customers are regulars with 70 to 120 people filing in for the weekend entertainment.
In the past, he used to catch people using badly laser printed false Texas or North Carolina IDs, Fake IDs but hasn’t come across that lately.
“It’s pretty much just paying attention to what you’re doing,” said O’Neill, who’s been working in restaurants and bars for more than 28 years.
The Alley on Newmarket Square in Newport News sees between five and six fake or borrowed IDs nightly, said general manager Emory “DJ E” Coleman. Between 900 and 1,200 people fill the popular dance club on weekends, he said.
In addition to internal training, Coleman brings in a consultant once or twice a year to train security staff, bartenders and servers on detecting fake IDs.
For Coleman, body language tells him when someone may not be using their ID card. Sometimes it’s hard to catch fake IDs, but Coleman said he pays particular attention to matching facial features and hairlines to those in the ID photos.
And sometimes, he’ll ask a customer for a signature. “It’s hard to duplicate someone else’s signature,” he said.
Not every local nightclub experiences problems with fake ID users.
The Comfort Zone on West Mercury Boulevard in Hampton caters to an older crowd both with music and by only allowing those ages 30 and up inside for the night entertainment, said owner Charlene Hope. The age limit keeps the crowd size manageable and keeps underage drinkers from wanting to come in, she said.