Fake IDs

*The names of sources have been changed to protect their anonymity

** The release of this story was delayed by one year to protect anonymous sources


As he stepped into the gleaming, fluorescent interior of the convenience store, Jamie* eyed the glowing row of refrigerators lined up against the back wall. He headed forward, passing the cool cases full of tea, soda, and milk. With little more than a second glance, he reached inside the refrigerator on the far left and pulled out a six-pack of beer. Heading back toward the cash register, he also grabbed a cheap bottle of red wine. Waiting in line behind two others, he shuffled his feet and glanced around nervously. “Hey man” said the cashier, distractedly, as Jamie got to the front of the line, “Anything else?,” the cashier asked. After hesitating a moment, Jamie said “A pack of Swishers too, please.” The cash register displayed a total cost, and he handed the cashier a stack of bills and an ID that read ‘Maryland’ in white scrawl. Walking back out into the drizzle and concrete, he triumphantly displayed the goods to his friends, and they headed off for the night. Everything about the transaction was completely normal, except for the fact that the customer was neither from Maryland nor was he 21, as his ID claimed.

Jamie, who attends The Urban School of San Francisco, said he uses his fake ID to ‘buy up’ alcohol “whenever there’s an Urban party.” He bought the ID in a ‘group buy’, or a large order of fakes that come at a cheaper price per unit. Jamie bought his during his sophomore year. “It was a big delivery,” he said, “at Urban, probably 20 people (purchased a fake ID)..and in total, probably 60” including the Urban students and purchasers from outside of school.

According to four student sources, these large-group buys have made the fakes extraordinarily cheap, at around $70 for a set of two. Todd*, another student at Urban, said he paid “in total, around $85 for two, including (the cost of) a photo at Walgreens.” Like Jamie, he said he “bought it from a group deal with friends … through an Urban student” in a group of “about 30 people.” Todd said he uses his fake “twice, three times a month.”

Daniel*, a former Urban student who said he uses his fake “when I go out on the weekend to go to bars,” bought his “online, on the darknet.” The darknet, a hidden portion of the Internet that requires special software to access, can provide a litany of illegal goods and services through the use of Bitcoin (a digital cryptocurrency). “I looked it up on the internet,” said Daniel, who also explained just how to find a fake for sale online. Bulk ordering on these sites facilitates group buys, a process that Daniel has done himself in the past. “(Purchasers) pay me and give me their information, and the IDs usually arrive within the month.”

“I could have made money,” he said, “but I didn’t.” Daniel distinguished between his role as a facilitator, rather than a dealer. He insisted he was doing favors rather than providing a service in exchange for compensation. He said that he “very rarely” provides fakes to underclassmen, for “many reasons”.

Fake IDs are widely considered to be pervasive in Urban’s social culture, but aside from anecdotal evidence, exactly how prevalent are fake IDs at Urban? A survey of 94 Urban students conducted in spring of 2016 indicated that approximately 18 percent of respondents have or have had a fake ID. This is in comparison to 12.5 percent, the number of rising college freshman who own fake IDs according to a 2007 study of 3,720 individuals conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH). While grade-specific percentages must be kept confidential for the sake of anonymity, the survey found that the majority of fakes were owned by upperclassmen. However, it did uncover a significant rate of fake ID ownership amongst underclassmen as well.

Matthew* got his fake ID when he was “16 years old, (in the) 10th grade.” Although fake ID ownership in 2016 was concentrated heavily among upperclassmen, Matthew was one of several underclassmen who owned one as well. As with the upperclassmen I talked to, he said he uses his fake “for special occasions and to buy up with friends.” However, he didn’t really see the fake ID as the single enabler for his alcohol use, saying that he’d probably drink the same amount without one “because of my friends who have them and because there is usually alcohol available at parties.”

According to the 2016 HIPE survey (which, amongst other things, monitors substance usage by the Urban student body every year), over 84 percent of Urban students have used marijuana at least once and over 80 percent have consumed alcohol at least once. It is unclear to what degree fake IDs have enabled this level of alcohol consumption, and to what degree they could contribute to cannabis consumption in the wake of legalization. However, it is clear that they play a significant role in Urban’s party culture. Jamie and Todd both said they use their fake IDs almost exclusively for Urban parties.

According to the 2007 NIH study, 56 percent of fake ID owners reported weekly use of alcohol compared to 14 percent of non-owners. Would Urban students drink as much without access to fake IDs? “Probably not” said Todd, and Daniel agrees: “I’d say that more people seem to go to house parties because of fake IDs.”

Aside from health impacts, there are legal and scholastic ramifications for owning a fake ID as well. Possession of one carrying your real name is a misdemeanor, while one with a name different than yours is a felony. The Urban administration is very clear on their policy toward any illegal activity. Charlotte Worsley, Assistant Head of Student Life, said that she has “the right to investigate and prosecute any illegal activity at Urban using any means at (her) disposal,” making it clear that any transgressors are subject to expulsion. Students at Urban, which is a private institution, have very few rights that protect them or their belongings from being searched or seized within the school.

Those who I interviewed said they are well aware of the potential ramifications of owning a fake ID. “I’m worried about my parents finding out or being caught using it” said Matthew, and others echoed that sentiment. However, despite the consequences, fake IDs have undoubtedly become a fixture of Urban’s social culture, a fact that is unlikely to change.