How to Spot Fake ID: A Guide for Small Businesses

Small business owners can be held responsible for damages caused if they accept a fake ID. It is the business’s duty to verify ID by using reasonable methods.

Whether you own a bar, vape shop, or live music booking venue that sells alcohol, a variety of small business owners need to learn how to spot fake id photos and features.

Here’s all you need to know.

Types of Fake IDs

how to spot fake id

To learn how to spot a fake id, you need to know that there are variations of fake IDs.

  • Borrowed IDs: Borrowed ids are often stolen ids used without the permission of the person who owns the id.
  • Altered IDs: Altered ids begin as actual ids but are changed somehow to help the user pass off the fake id. For example, the owner’s photograph is replaced with a photograph of the person who wants to use the fake id.
  • Forged IDs: Forged ids are created from scratch and intended to be a replica of a typical id. The most common forged ids are driver’s license copies.

Why Do People Use Fake IDs?

how to spot fake id

People use fake IDs for a variety of reasons, often revolving around deceiving or circumventing systems put in place for safety, legality, or trust. Here are a few examples of why people may use a fake ID:

  • Underage Purchase: This is perhaps the most common reason. Some people, especially minors, use fake IDs to buy age-restricted products such as alcohol, tobacco, or vaping products.
  • Financial Fraud: A person might use a fake ID to commit financial fraud, such as opening a bank account under someone else’s name, obtaining credit cards, or making purchases with someone else’s money.
  • Evading Law Enforcement: Individuals with a criminal history or outstanding warrants may use fake IDs to avoid detection by law enforcement. This could include everything from traffic stops to more serious police investigations.
  • Renting Property: People with a bad credit history, previous evictions, or criminal backgrounds might use a fake ID to deceive landlords or rental agencies. They might also use fake IDs to rent vehicles without a valid driver’s license or to commit theft or fraud.
  • Identity Theft: Some people use fake IDs to impersonate others, often intending to commit further crimes such as fraud or harassment.
  • Evading Age Verification: Some online platforms have age restrictions for certain services or content. People may use fake IDs to evade these restrictions and gain access to the content or services.
  • Job Applications: Individuals may use fake IDs when applying for jobs to hide a problematic employment history or criminal record.
  • Immigration Status: Some people may use fake IDs to hide their immigration status, either because they are illegally in the country or have overstayed their visas.

Businesses, landlords, and law enforcement need to be vigilant about checking IDs and understanding how to spot a fake one. Not only does this help protect against potential loss, but it also helps maintain safety and legality in their operations. As a business owner that requires ID checks, like a wine business or a liquor store, it’s crucial to train yourself and your staff on the common signs of a fake ID.

Recognizing Security Features on Genuine IDs

how to spot fake id

Real ids have security features. Although a fake id may look exactly like a real id, the process of creating the security features is difficult to replicate – even for accomplished, tech-savvy criminals.

Holograms and Microprinting

Many state-issued ids use microprinting and holograms as security features. You can only see these using a magnifying glass with 10x power magnification properties. Different states locate those security features in different spots on the ids.

UV Features

UV features add another layer of protection. There are certain security features that only show up when the id is held under UV light.

Feel of the ID

A typical driver’s license is thick. One way to spot a fake id driver’s license is to feel it. If it feels thin and is easily flexible, it may be fake. Those who create fake ids don’t use the same lamination process.

Another way to spot altered ids is to run you finger over the main surface, in particular, the photo area. If another photo has been placed over the photo area, you’ll feel a slight bumpiness in that area.

ID Security FeaturesDetailsHow to Spot
HologramsHolograms are images with a special property that allows them to change when viewed from different angles. Many state-issued IDs use holograms as a form of security feature.Use a magnifying glass with 10x power magnification to see the holograms. The exact location of the holograms varies from state to state.
MicroprintingMicroprinting involves printing small text or patterns that are difficult to replicate without the correct equipment. This text or pattern can only be seen clearly under magnification.To see the microprinting, use a magnifying glass with 10x power magnification. The exact location of the microprinting varies depending on the state.
UV FeaturesThese are security features that only become visible when the ID is held under ultraviolet light. Different states use different UV designs.To see the UV features, hold the ID under a UV light source. The UV designs will appear under this light condition.
Feel of the IDThe feel of the ID can also be a security feature. Authentic IDs are typically thick and not easily flexible due to the lamination process used.If the ID feels thin and is overly flexible, it might be a fake. Compare the feel of the ID in question with a known authentic ID for reference.

Each of these methods provides a way to validate the authenticity of an ID, but the effectiveness of each method can vary depending on the quality of the fake ID. The best approach often involves using a combination of these methods.

Identifying Fake IDs by State

Small business owners should have access to the Drivers License Guide. The Drivers License Guide is an ID-checking tool that explains the unique characteristics of each state’s driver’s license. Anyone familiar with bar terminology or who often needs to check IDs for purchases should be familiar with this option.

Another valuable tool is using an App that scans bar codes. Many IDs have barcodes. When the barcode is scanned, it will reveal information about the cardholder. That information should match the description on the card. Forged ids won’t include info with the barcode – it’s too expensive and difficult to use that technology.

Each state has specific security features which are located in particular areas of the license. Here are some examples of that:

Spotting Fake IDs in California

On a California license, the driver’s signature has raised lettering.

Spotting Fake IDs in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the holder’s date of birth is laser engraved.

Spotting Fake IDs in Illinois

When the driver’s license is tilted and held under UV light, the state name shows up diagonally on the card.

How to Spot a Fake Military ID Card

how to spot fake id

Military ids are the rarest of fake IDs or altered IDs. Of course, the wrong people may attempt to use one, especially if it gains them significant discounts.

Manufacturing, altering or using a fake military id card is a felony. This is one of the reasons that military id fraud is not as common as other types of id fraud.

To spot fake ids of this type, compare the person’s description to the person’s actual appearance. Also, ask for a driver’s license or other photo id to compare.

How to Spot a Fake ID Picture

how to spot fake id

A common scam is creating a fraudulent ID by altering only the picture. When this is done, security features such as microprint do exist. Only the photo has been changed.

Discrepancies in Picture Quality

The photo quality is blurry or grainy.

Identifying Age Inconsistencies

The age of the person depicted on the card doesn’t match the age of the person in the photo.

The Telltale Bump

When a photo is added to an existing ID, it is placed over the spot where the original photo is located. An ID card should have a smooth surface. An added photo will be slightly raised from the card’s surface. This can be felt.

how to spot fake id

FAQs: How to Spot Fake ID

Arm your business with tools such as the driver’s License Guide and a barcode scanning app. Also, train employees so that they have the skills and knowledge to handle someone attempting to use a fraudulent ID.

What light can identify fraudulent ids?

Certain security features will show up under ultraviolet light.

What are the common features of fake Identification?

If a photo is added, that will create a discernible raised area. The photo quality may be poor.

Fake ids may contain misspellings and inaccurate state abbreviations.

Be on alert for suspected underage customers attempting to purchase vape equipment, butane, tobacco products and/or alcohol. These types of purchases are common for attempted use of fake ID.

Should a Small Business Owner Report ID Fraud?

Absolutely. Although some states treat the crime as a felony, in most cases it is a misdemeanor. Fines to the perpetrator range from $500 to $1000.

Call law enforcement. You can hold the suspected fake ID until police arrive.

What are some rarely altered IDs and why?

Military IDs are rarely altered, possibly because that crime is treated as a felony.

An original birth certificate should have a raised seal from its state of origin. This is tough to forge.

How can I spot fraudulent driver’s license use specifically?

A driver’s license may be the most common type of fraudulent ID use.

It is most often used by underage persons attempting to buy alcohol, tobacco/vaping products or butane products. So spotting fake driver’s licenses is an essential part of learning how to manage a bar.

Use your security knowledge and tools, such as your driver’s license guide, UV light and a 10x magnifying glass. Compare the height, weight and age information to the person attempting to use the license.

Also, ask questions. Don’t ask obvious questions, such as birthdate and address. Someone attempting to use the license has memorized that information. Instead, ask an offbeat question such as “What year did you graduate from high school?”

That should elicit an instant answer; someone should not be standing there, trying to do the math.

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.