Bartenders have to contend with fake ID’s on a daily basis. Make no mistake, they’re looking for them, and have been trained extensively in spotting fakes. And, they have no problem taking appropriate action – usually confiscation.

So, how do bartenders spot fake ID’s? Usually with experience, but there are tried and tested methods for spotting that fake ID and taking appropriate action. Matching signatures, asking questions, and checking ‘State ID Picture Guides’ all aid in the process.

Underage drinking is a huge problem these days, and bars and restaurants get their fair share of minors trying to purchase alcohol using fake ID’s. Bar owners know this, and effectively train their staff to sniff them out.

I want to be very clear about minors using falsified ID’s cards to purchase alcohol: They have no respect for you. They don’t care about you, your job, or your fellow employees. They certainly don’t care if the bar loses its liquor license. The same goes for bartenders who knowingly serve minors.

And for you minors out there, take a look at my article on whether or not a bar can confiscate your Fake ID or not. Who knows? Maybe you’ll think twice.

Falsifying ID’s is getting tougher. With Congress passing the “Real ID” Act in 2005, all 50 states are required to take measures to combat the practice of making fake ID’s and altering real ones. Not to be taken lightly, the penalties can be stiff.

In addition to the Real ID Act, The Department of Homeland Security announced in December of 2013 an enforcement plan for the implication of the Real ID Act. Secure Drivers License and Identification cards are the main purposes here, and it appears as though Federal law is designating what can and can not be accepted as valid identification.

Allowing minors to drink in their establishment is the last thing a bar owner wants. Fines are hefty. Liquor license suspension or revocation is possible, and bar owners will do whatever they can to prevent the practice. We’ll get into the 25 methods that bar owners use to combat the use of fake and falsified ID’s – but first….

All About ID’s

ID’s. Ugh. Bartenders are in a constant fight with underage customers trying to get served. Checking ID’s will be part of your job as long as you’re behind the bar. The Bar Owner will have (should have), strict house policies in place when it comes to checking ID’s.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and protecting the Bar Owner’s liquor license is probably one of the most important parts of the bartender’s job description. Zero tolerance, my friends.

First and Foremost: The bar will have (or, should have), very strict policies in place when it comes to checking ID’s. Bartenders must know this policy. It is your responsibility. Many times, these policies will go over and beyond what the law requires.

Secondly: Never serve alcohol to someone if you are absolutely sure they are underage. If the bar owner/bar manager says it’s OK – DO NOT do it. Unfortunately, I have been in this situation before – and almost had to quit a job.

Thirdly: Never be afraid to check someone’s ID that a fellow employee has already checked. If the customer looks extremely young, or something seems out-of-whack, then give it a check yourself.

Minors have no problem spending hundreds of dollars to purchase a fake ID. They don’t think twice about grabbing their sibling’s ID, using their college buddies ID, or sneaking in the side door and sitting at the bar. Make no mistake, minors using a fake ID don’t care one whit about you or your job.

They’re also oblivious to the consequences of purchasing alcohol using a fake ID. In fact, they’re probably driving to your bar to try and drink – and then driving home. There’s a reason why the minimum age to purchase alcohol is 21 – for the entire 50 states in the USA. Most minors are irresponsible when it comes to consuming alcohol.

Allowing minors to drink in their establishment is the last thing a bar owner wants. Fines are hefty. Liquor license suspension or revocation is possible, so bar owners will do whatever they can to prevent the practice.

Here is what we will cover:

  • The law and the bartender’s responsibility
  • The F.E.A.R Method
  • What is considered a fake ID?
  • What is considered a valid ID?
  • Can you confiscate fake ID’s?
  • 25 Ways to spot fake ID’s

Checking ID’s is the Bartender’s Responsibility

If you’re a bartender, make no mistake – you are the one the authorities will question if a minor has been served in your bar. Don’t take any chances. The bar owner holds you responsible. The police hold you responsible. The State holds you responsible.

You may have to deal with indignant and verbally abusive customers – but that’s all part of the business. A few do’s and don’ts:

  • Never take a chance
  • If you have the slightest suspicion the ID is altered – use secondary methods to further validate the ID
  • Please, don’t take a bribe!
  • Never take the word of a friend
  • If unsure, get a second opinion – a fellow bartender or the manager

The penalties for serving alcohol to a minor can be severe. Fines, suspensions, and even the loss of the liquor license can result if a bar knowingly, even unknowingly, serves a minor alcohol.

The local authorities will send out officers to test you. Believe it. Local Police, ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control), the Vice Squad, etc. I have dealt with ‘plants’ many times, and never been busted for accepting a false or altered ID. Here are some methods the authorities may use to evaluate your ID checking policy:

  • Sending an obviously young looking person, even though they are 21 or older, to attempt the purchase of alcohol. They just want to determine if you’re following the “we ID under the age of 40” rule.
  • Sending in a person underage, with a valid ID showing they are 19 or 20. Again, they’re trying to determine if you’re paying attention.
  • Sending in someone who may or may not be of age – but with an altered ID. It has been my experience that the alteration is usually quite obvious when the authorities are involved.
  • Sending in a person with an out of state ID. Your ‘State ID Guidebook’ comes in very handy here, and every bar should have one on hand.
  • Sending in an obviously intoxicated person. (Nothing to do with ID’s, obviously!). Of course, the person is probably acting, but, again, they’re trying to determine if you’re serving drunk people.
  • And many other methods. Quite frankly, I have no problem with this. They’re just doing their job.

The F.E.A.R. Method: Feel, Examine, Ask, Return

Many bars and restaurants now use the F.E.A.R method, described below. In fact, some bars will bring in a professional to conduct a class on ID’s. Well worth it – and I’m all for it. It may also be part of your “Alcohol Awareness Training” which is discussed in a previous lesson of this section.

  • Feel the ID. Physically take the document in your hand and feel it. Does it have raised numbers, bumps, irregular edges? These can all be signs of alteration. How thick is it? Many times, an ID card that has been tampered with will feel thicker than normal.
  • Examine the elements of the document. Is there a hologram? Hold the ID up to the light. Check the height, weight, and hair and eye color of the person presenting the ID. Is the printing blurred? Check the date of birth – as well as issue and expiration dates.
  • Ask the ID holder questions. Ask them what their address is. What is their zip code? Out of state ID – ask them the capital of the state. What is their horoscope sign?
  • Return the ID if everything appears to be OK. If you’re confident that the ID is valid, simply return it and thank them for patronizing your establishment. If you’re not 100% sure – refuse entry and/or service. Get a second opinion from your manager or a fellow bartender. In many states, you can confiscate the ID – but that’s a subject for another day.

First, let’s determine what constitutes a fake ID. Many people are confused about this, and believe that many forms of ID allow them to purchase alcohol.

What is Considered a Fake ID?

A Fake ID is considered a false identification document. That’s bad news for a minor that uses one to purchase alcohol. Many bars are now prosecuting people using fake ID’s – and with good reason.

All states have laws against the use of fake ID’s. Most consider any ID that contains false information by forgery or alteration to be fake, and have established strict laws to combat the practice. In fact, penalties are becoming even more severe as under-age drinking has reached epic proportions.

Furthermore, anyone selling, producing, altering, and using a fake ID is subject to criminal penalty. In short, anything having to do with falsifying ID’s is bad news, and it gets worse if you attempt to use a fake ID to purchase alcohol.

What is Considered a Valid ID

Let’s look at what constitutes a valid ID. Most bars and restaurants will have some sort of ID ‘Guide’ that displays pictures of valid state ID’s, passports, and military ID’s. It’s a handy sort of thing to have around, and I have used these guides many times.

What about ID’s in my state? Bartenders better know these backwards and forwards – not good for sneaky minors.

States may differ on some types of ID’s that they’ll accept, but most are on the same page. Below is a list of ID’s that are, generally speaking, determined to be valid:

  • State Driver’s License or Non-Operator ID
  • Out-of-State Driver’s License or Non-Operator ID
  • U.S. Passport
  • U.S. Military ID or Veteran ID
  • Tribal ID’s

Some states may accept other forms of ID’s, but that’s unusual. Passports from other countries are acceptable as well as valid ID’s from Canada. Bars and restaurants usually have some sort of guide on hand for these types of ID’s. Use it, as it’s not worth taking a chance.

Can You Confiscate Fake ID’s?

The use of fake ID’s to purchase alcohol is as common as the sun rising each morning. Minors never learn, and it’s only a matter of time before someone busts them with the goods. The penalties and consequences can be severe, and it’s never a good idea to be in possession of one.

So, can a bar confiscate my fake ID? Yes, in most cases they can. All 50 states have different laws regarding the confiscation of fake ID’s. When it comes to dispensing alcohol, bars and restaurants take their responsibilities seriously and will do whatever they can to root out all forms of false identification.

Some will argue that, regardless, “This ID is my property, and you can’t take it.” Good luck with that. Personally, I have heard this many times as a bartender, and I simply say something like, “OK – let’s let the police decide. Do you want to call them – or should I?”

In order to eliminate some of the confusion on how states differ in what determines ID confiscation, I have decided to use the State of Iowa’s laws to further my points here. Know your own State’s laws! Laws change all the time, so be aware that some of these laws and policies may change in the future.

Can a Bartender Really Take Someone’s ID?

Yes, they can. In the State of Iowa, at the time of this writing, if a bartender reasonably believes that someone has presented a fake ID – they are allowed to confiscate it.

This includes any ID that appears to be falsified or altered. In addition, if it appears that the ID does not belong to the person presenting it they can also grab it.

Iowa, like most other states, requires that the bar/bar owner turn the ID over to the local police within 24 hours of confiscation. The bar must also provide written documentation of the incident, and give the individual a receipt with the time and date of the confiscation.

Following the above procedures allows the bar to avoid being criminally or civilly liable for the seizure of the license. This is good policy, and as long as physical force is not used the bar is most likely in the clear.

I’m no stranger to the confiscation of ID’s and I (or my staff), have probably confiscated 100’s throughout the years. I take no prisoners. Fake ID’s put my job in jeopardy, and I have zero tolerance for them. And, I know that the vast majority of bartenders, servers, and bouncers feel the same way.

How to Spot Fake ID’s

Let’s take a look at the methods bar owners/managers, employees are using to combat the use of fake and altered ID’s. Some methods are routine – some are very advanced.

Remember that bar employees do not work for any type of Law Enforcement. Nor are they experts in forgeries. The authorities understand this, and as long as you make a reasonable effort to combat fake ID’s you’re going to be just fine. Good common sense goes a long way in rooting out those fake ID’s.

Again, allowing minors to drink in their establishment is the last thing a bar owner wants. Fines are hefty. Liquor license suspension or revocation is possible, and bar owners should be doing whatever they can to prevent the practice. Following are 25 methods that bar owners use to combat the use of fake and falsified ID’s. It’s a bit overkill, but what the heck.

I want to be very clear about something here: You really don’t want to give everyone who looks young the third degree. Ask for their ID, and if there is nothing obviously wrong with it – it’s probably good. There’s a fine line between going overboard checking ID’s and catching obvious forgeries. Experienced bartenders get really good at this. You will too.

25 Ways to Spot Fake ID’s

The first 15 ways to spot fake ID’s on this list are the most common ones. If bartenders would just follow these procedures when checking ID’s, they can feel confident that they have correctly recognized a valid ID – and stay out of trouble.

1.  Ask for the ID

Observe the person closely as they find and produce their ID. Watch them pull it out. Are they nervous or uneasy? If they show up with friends, how are the friends reacting when you ask for one of their ID’s?

Observing their behavior is a very effective way of sizing up a person’s demeanor. Many ‘novices’ in using a fake ID for the first time reveal their deception simply through their actions. Delaying, fumbling around, trying to distract the bartender – all lead to suspicion and you need to take a closer look.

2.  Ask What Their Address Is

Is it current? Ask them. Ask them their middle name. Ask them to spell their name. These may seem like simple questions, but their response will tell you a lot. Do they provide answers quickly? Are they thinking about the question?

This is a great way of discovering whether the ID is altered – or belongs to someone else. Minors these days think nothing of ‘borrowing’ their buddies ID – someone that has similar facial characteristics – and trying to pass the ID off as their own.

3.  Ask About Their Horoscope Sign

This might seem like a ridiculous question, but if they are using someone else’s ID – or altered the month and day of the ID as well as the year – they’re busted. Some may say that they ‘don’t believe in that stuff’ and feign ignorance. Fine. Proceed with additional methods of validating the ID.

You’re going to be surprised at how effective this method is. If it is, indeed, a fake ID, the subject will start stammering and appear confused. If so, ask some more questions and take a closer look at the ID.

4.  Pull out your ’50 State ID Guide’

Compare their ID (if it’s out of state), with the guide. Look closely at the example, front and back, and match it up to the ID that was given to you. This is very effective and quick, and gives you some confidence in validating unfamiliar out of state ID’s.

Many people from out of state will pull out some version of an employee card or student identification card. Careful with these. They are not valid forms of ID, and the person is counting on the bartender not knowing what constitutes a valid ID in a different state.

5.  Check the Signature on the ID

Yep. This is a very effective way to validate someone’s ID. Pull out a blank piece of paper and have them sign their name. Match it to the ID. This may irritate your guest, but you probably got to this point because something else with the ID ‘wasn’t right.’

This is another effective way to determine if the ID has been altered – or it’s not theirs. You don’t have to be a handwriting expert to determine if the signatures match.

With a reasonable observation of the two signatures, you should have no difficulty in determining if the ID belongs to the person presenting the card. I have done this tons of times!

6. Is the Group From the Same State?

This is a huge red flag. For a group of people from out of state that all look underage, they will most likely all have ID’s from that same state. All of them. If you spot one fake ID – you probably exposed a few others. A “Minor” conspiracy!

Minors will assume that the bartender knows his own state ID’s. They also know that out of state ID’s are probably accepted, and believe that most establishments are not familiar with what constitutes a valid ID in a different state.

Utilize all of the normal ways to check the validity of all their ID’s.

7. Compare the Photo

This one seems pretty obvious. However, take a very close look. It’s important also to physically have the ID in hand and feel for any bumps or uneven edges around the picture.

If the photo does not look like the person presenting the ID, STATE THAT FACT, and ask them if this is, indeed, their photograph on the ID. Simple.

Sometimes you’ll run across some really bad fake ID’s. I have detected, many times, where a photo was simply placed over the original photo and scotch taped. Unbelievable, I know, but sometimes people just aren’t that bright.

8. Physical description 1

Height and weight. This is easy to determine. And, this is where the ID’s date of issue comes into play. If the ID’s height and weight do not match what is standing before you – it’s probably fake.

In addition to the above, notice the ID’s date of issue. This provides you with ammunition when the person states that he ‘grew a couple of inches’ in the last year, or ‘I’ve been on a diet and lost 40 pounds.’ If the date of issue was very recent and the physical description does not match up – it may be fake.

9. Physical Description 2

Hair and eye color. This can be a challenge. These days, people change the color of their hair all the time. And, they use colored contact lenses. I always use a secondary method of verifying an ID when I run across someone who’s hair or eye color just doesn’t match up.

It’s kind of funny what people will do to ‘match up’ with the physical description on the ID. They wear glasses, crouch down, stand on their tiptoes – you name it. Whenever you see this – utilize an additional method of validating the ID.

10. Grammar/Punctuation

There are some really good forgers out there. And some really bad ones.  I guess you get what you pay for. Using just basic printing and scanning equipment, they’ll alter more than just the birth date. Address, the class, type of endorsements, etc.

Does it look like they used a font right out of Microsoft Word? Are there spelling mistakes? Blurred lines? Some ID’s are so sloppy that words are misspelled, the city doesn’t coincide with the state, and the date of birth is in the wrong format.

Honestly, fake ID’s must be taken seriously – but I have thoroughly enjoyed myself messing with minors that are totally clueless. “What’s your Mommies phone number? I think I’ll give her a call and let her know what’s going on here.”

11. State ID’s Easiest to Falsify

Yes, you read that correctly. There are states that put a little more effort into their ID printing policies – and it shows. Take a look here at a humorous article on how state ID’s stack up against each other.

As of this writing, there appears to be a consensus on which states are the easiest to falsify. Some States seem to show up a lot on these lists. If everyone in the party presents an ID from one of these states – it might be worth the effort to take a closer look.

12. Check the Issue Date

This is another way to validate an ID that many bartenders overlook. For someone using their older brother’s expired ID, this often gets them in the door – past unsuspecting bouncers and bartenders.

If you know that the state issues their Driver’s License for 5 years – and that period of time has elapsed – then you have a problem. Sometimes the ID’s issue date OR expired date is altered – and they forget to adjust the other date. Again, there are some really good counterfeiters – and some that are notoriously bad.

13. Check the Expiration Date

This is another easy way to verify a valid ID. If it’s expired – it’s not valid. Period. Sometimes they may have a paper ID – in addition to the ID card. This usually happens when people wait until the last minute to renew their license.

You have to be careful with this scenario. Many states say that without an unexpired PHOTO ID, nothing can be taken in its place. Any ID without a photo sends out warning signals. Utilize additional methods to validate the ID.

14. Ask for Another ID

I always do this if the ID appears to be fake or something just doesn’t match up. Any sort of ID will do. The secondary ID can be a student ID card, employee ID, or even a medical benefits ID.

Let me be very clear here: Although these types of ID’s cannot be used to validate one’s identity or date of birth on their own, they can be used to help establish that person’s identity. Use some common sense here.

Driver’s licenses get beat up. They’re constantly being pulled out of a wallet, run through terminals, etc. Sometimes there may be a smudge or something that may give the ID the appearance of being altered.

Requiring a secondary ID solves a lot of problems. For one, you have good reason to believe that everything in that person’s wallet is in his name. Not always, of course, but enough to give you that edge in deciding if the original ID is valid. Ask your manager to take a look.

I do know that some minors are aware they may be made to produce another form of ID, so it’s relatively easy for them to fake an employee ID or school ID and use as a secondary ID. Especially if they’re from out of state. It’s not unheard of to ask for even a third ID.

15. The License is Stamped ‘Duplicate’

This is automatically a red flag. Most ID’s labeled duplicate are valid, of course, but you’re going to want to look a bit closer than you normally do.

10 More Advanced Ways to Spot Fake ID’s

States are getting smarter, and with today’s anti-forgery techniques they’ve upped their game. Some of these methods to root out forgeries may seem a bit like overkill, but remember that ID’s are used for more than just trying to sneak into bars.

As a bartender, if you follow the above 15 general ways to detect fake ID’s – you’ll be just fine. The below methods are used to catch those really good counterfeiters and used by government agencies to catch the ‘real’ criminals.

16. Blurred Lettering

This is a common mistake that forgers make. Sloppy work, to say the least. The cause is usually a poor printer – or an out of focus camera. If you see an ID with blurred printing – it’s probably fake.

17. Laser Images and Engraving

There have been huge breakthroughs in this type of technology. Using laser images virtually eliminates the ability to alter an ID card because forgers are unable to scratch or remove the pre-printed information.

18. Ghost Images

This is a pretty simple way to detect a fake ID. Many states, like Minnesota, now have a ghost image on the Driver’s License. It’s simply an additional picture on the ID, not quite as clear, and located in the lower corner of the ID. These are hard for forgers to alter.

19. Overlays

Many states now add holograms or overlays to their state’s Drivers Licenses and ID cards. By simply tilting the ID card, you’ll be able to see these holographic overlays and authenticate the ID.

20. Bar Codes

These handheld devices can be purchased for around $50 – $300. Simply scan the ID. The bar code scanner will detect whether the ID is valid or not.

This is very helpful, but it doesn’t tell you whether or not the person standing before you is the same person identified on the ID. Use additional means of verifying the validity of the ID.

21. UV Lighting

Many states now add UV images to the ID card. Very effective, and simply makes the ID card harder to alter.

22. Micro Printing

This type of anti-alteration method has been around for a few years now.  Hard to see small letters and other figures, sometimes with intentional typos, make it extremely hard for forgers to alter this type of ID.

23. Special Materials

Many ID’s add special material to the actual card. Polycarbonates, synthetic paper, and other composites make this type of ID hard to alter.

24. Fine Lines

This is simply small print which is generally very hard to produce. Utilizing different printing materials, printers, and ink pigment, this process makes it very hard to alter an ID card.

25. Laser Perforation

This process produces holes in different types of materials. Usually too small for the human eye to see, this method is used to detect higher end alterations.

Foreign Country ID’s

A word about ID’s from other countries. Most bars accept passports from foreign countries. You just have to exercise some common sense. Ask questions, and refer to the first 15 methods I laid out above to further validate the ID.

Some bars have a ‘no foreign ID’ policy. I question the legality of this, and maybe this is no longer legal. I think that’s just bad business, but you may be forced to comply with house policy. Take it with a grain of salt, offer to seat them in the dining room – and you’re good to go.

Final Thoughts on Fake ID’s

Fake IDs are not going away. A bar’s first line of defense is the bartender. Know the laws. Know how to spot a fake ID. Ask questions of the person presenting the ID. Use an ‘ID Guide’ to match up State ID’s. Ask your Bar Manager (or owner), to invest in some sort of ID scanner.

Serving alcohol to minors has consequences. Significant consequences. Most bartenders take this part of their job very seriously and do whatever they can to prevent minors from drinking in their bar.

If not sure that an ID is valid, employees checking ID’s should ask for a second opinion – or get management approval to serve someone.

Most importantly – never take a chance. If you feel that there is something wrong with the ID – simply refuse service. There’s nothing wrong with this, as bars have the right to refuse service to anyone. It’s simply not worth your job, or the bar’s liquor license, to serve alcohol to a suspected minor.

Related Bartending Topics

How much does a fake ID cost? It depends. I’m certainly not advocating that anyone use a fake ID for anything – but they’re out there. A quick search on the internet reveals the average cost to be around $100.00. Of course, then you have career criminals that invest thousands of dollars for really good ID’s.

How much can a bar be fined for serving minors? That depends on a number of factors. Is it the bar’s first offense? Was the ID checked by a responsible person and determined to be valid? Did the bartender knowingly serve the under-age guest? Fines can range from $100.00 to $5000.00 – and more.

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