How to Spot a Fake ID in California

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For police officers, bouncers, human resources officers, bank clerks, landlords and anyone else who has to verify identity in a professional capacity, the use of fake IDs is a growing challenge. The California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control advocates a system called FLAG to check IDs that makes it much easier to spot a fraud.

“F” Stands for “Feel”

Have the person remove their ID from their wallet to allow identification of its tactile features.

  • California ID cards and driver’s licenses issued after September 2010 display raised numbers to display the cardholder’s date of birth, which can be felt.
  • Insert a fingernail into a corner of the card. California IDs contain three layers bonded together with heat, so the layers should not separate. If they do, the card is  fake.
  • Feel for bumps, lumps or any information that has been cut or pasted onto the card.

“L” Stands for “Look”

  • Press a flashlight to the back of the card to see the laser shape of the California Brown Bear.
  • Check which side the photograph is on. For California IDs, the adult card is horizontal, and the image appears on the left. Minor cards are vertical, and the image appears on the right.
  • Look at the photograph. Focus on the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and chin – the so-called “triangle of recognition.” Unlike hairstyles and beards, these features do not change.
  • Check the birthdate. Does the person look as if he is the age he claims to be? Look for changes to the birthdate area.
  • Inspect the person. Does their height and weight reasonably match the information on the ID card?
  • Run a finger over the signature. Since September 2010, this has been raised on California IDs, allowing the signature to be touched.
  • Check for obvious spelling and other errors.

“A” Stands for “Ask Questions”

Ask a series of questions in a attempt to catch the fake ID holder in a lie. Examples include:

  • What is your zip code?
  • What is your driver’s license number?
  • What is your Zodiac sign?
  • Will you sign your name, please? Verify this new signature against the signature on the card.  

“G” Stands for “Give Back”

If, after inspection, the card looks genuine, it should be returned to the cardholder. If the ID looks fake, your options are to refuse to do business with the cardholder or to confiscate the card and file a report with the police.

If a business seizes the card, the California Business and Professions Code 25659 requires that they give the cardholder a receipt and attach a copy to the ID. A third copy should be kept in the siezing entity's business records with an explanation of the situation (who confiscated the ID, where, when and why). The ID must be turned over to the police within 24 hours.

Penalties for Possessing a Fake ID

California law makes it a crime to possess or display a fake ID with the intention of deceiving someone, such as when an 18-year-old uses a fake driver’s license to buy alcohol. The crime is known as a wobbler offense, which means the person may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

For example, a person under 18 using a fake ID to buy cigarettes is likely to be charged with a misdemeanor offense, which carries a potential fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in a county jail. A person using a fake passport to commit identity theft, forgery or check fraud may be looking at a felony charge, a penalty fine up to $10,000, and up to three years of imprisonment.

For businesses, the penalties are also severe. California operates a “three strikes, and you’re out” policy for businesses that furnish alcohol to minors. The first offense carries a fine of up to $3,000, with a mandatory license suspension for the second offense and license revocation for the third offense. Such a business' only defense is that it relied on a government-issued ID, w hich is a powerful incentive to perform proper ID checks.