- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - An age-old headache for bar owners and police - minors trying to fake their way into drinking establishments - is becoming more and more complicated by new technology and online counterfeit ID makers from around the globe.

But state and local law enforcement agencies, pointing to Rounders Bar and Grill in downtown Mankato, told the Mankato Free Press (https://bit.ly/2jyRaLt ) that underage drinkers can still be stopped if bouncers and servers are diligent.

The evidence of that sat on the bar of the downtown Mankato business - a half-dozen confiscated passports and hundreds upon hundreds of driver’s licenses and other identification cards taken from would-be patrons of Rounders in the past year or so.

“These are IDs that are altered, faked or just hand-offs,” said Ryan Tucker, general manager of Rounders.

While the hand-offs - when someone age 21 or older shares their ID with an underage friend - are the most common, manufactured IDs frequently show up and are increasingly sophisticated. And they can be ordered on the web, often from overseas sources.

That’s one of the biggest changes in the 16 years Tucker has been working in the bar business. At one time, youngsters had to connect with some shady back-alley guy to get a falsified ID.

“You’d have to know somebody who knew somebody,” Tucker said.

Officials from the Minnesota and Mankato public safety departments praised the efforts by Tucker and his staff to identify minors trying to use fraudulent identification to drink. It’s evident in the statistics that many Minnesota establishments - both on-sale and off-sale sellers of liquor - aren’t as zealous.

More than a quarter of Minnesota college students between the ages of 18 and 20 had consumed five or more drinks in one sitting, according to a 2015 student health survey. And 56 percent of underage college students had consumed alcohol in the prior month.

In the five years ending with 2015, 32 people died in Minnesota crashes where underage drinkers were driving and 7,885 DWI arrests involved underage drivers.

“Those are just the ones who were caught,” said special agent Terry Kelley of the state Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division.

Kelley implored bar owners to hold employees accountable in enforcing drinking-age laws, warned minors about the criminal penalties associated with using a fake ID or lending an ID to a minor, and asked parents to have candid conversations with their children about the dangers of underage drinking.

“We don’t want to have to go to one more parent and say your kid is not coming home because of some tragedy,” Kelley said.

Although people of any age can make stupid choices after drinking, underage drinkers are particularly susceptible because of their inexperience, Kelley said.

In addition, minors attempting to get into a bar are often motivated to drink heavily, whereas older patrons might simply be looking for dinner and a beer or two, said Mankato police Cmdr. Matt DuRose.

Most of the people caught with fake or borrowed IDs don’t face criminal charges, he said. The number of cases would be overwhelming for prosecutors, and police typically avoid asking bar employees to take custody of patrons for nonviolent offenses while they wait for a police officer to respond.

“Do we want bar staff using force to hold someone for something like this?” DuRose said.

But losing an ID isn’t cost free, he said. When driver’s licenses are confiscated after being loaned to a friend, the lender is faced with the hassle and cost of getting a replacement. And when a high-quality fake ID is lost, a replacement can cost $100 or more online.

“There’s other collateral costs that go along with it,” he said.

As for Rounders’ massive ID collection, Tucker attributes it to the training and motivation of his employees. They’re all instructed to review the security features on real driver’s licenses so they can better spot fakes. For instance, the identification number on a valid Minnesota license has a unique quality: The sum of the first three digits matches the last two digits.

Other tricks work well both for hand-offs and for fake IDs for more distant cities and states, Tucker said. If somebody is showing a license with a hometown of Faribault, a bouncer might ask the ID holder what the major highway is that runs adjacent to the city. A real Faribault native would know it’s Interstate 35.

And there have been a lot of Illinois driver’s licenses showing up recently.

“We’ll ask them, ‘What’s the capital of Illinois?’” Tucker said. “A lot of people will say it’s Chicago.”

Tucker said he likes to hire Minnesota State University students who are ex-military or majors in the law enforcement program. They tend to understand why it’s important to keep underage drinkers out - for ethical and for liability reasons. They also seem to get a kick out of seeing who can total the most confiscations.

“They tend to turn it into a competition,” Tucker said. “That’s how they make it fun.”

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Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com

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