- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

The era of buying phony IDs from the back pages of comic books has given way to a generation of computer-smart teens with access to software so sophisticated they can fool bouncers, bartenders and even police officers.

"It's a definite challenge for all law enforcement," said Becky Gettings, director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. "The agents have to do their best to keep up with new technology."

These teens can download pristine replicas of state driver's licenses from the Internet, and add holograms and bar codes that experts added to prevent such fraud.

In Fairfax County, three public school students were charged last month with making fake IDs and selling them to classmates for about $30 each, according to news reports. Investigators recovered 106 of the IDs, including 56 that were dropped in "amnesty lockers" at Annandale and Fairfax high schools. Police said students who voluntarily surrendered the IDs would not face charges.

In addition to the Virginia and Maryland laws against making fake IDs, which carry a maximum fine of $1,500, the federal government also passed the False Identification Prevention Act of 2000, which calls for up to a one-year prison sentence.

Officials say fake IDs started getting more high-tech in the 1980s, when many states increased their minimum drinking ages to 21 and underage partiers learned their crudely laminated IDs could easily be confiscated.

Police, who conducted a one-year investigation in the Fairfax County case, said the students duplicated the licenses by scanning real ones into a computer.

But prospective counterfeiters have a variety of choices.

They can spend thousands for the equipment, such as Adobe Photoshop, scanners and printers that can write on the special plastic used to make credit cards. Or they can buy IDs on the Internet, where a search last week found 4,200 related Web sites.

Dave Myers, from Florida's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, said a recent sweep of Florida bars during spring break uncovered 10,000 bogus IDs. He also said investigators must conduct laboratory tests to detect fake IDs.

Fred McCaughey, president of the Missouri-based Westec Inc., which sells identification supplies online, said would-be counterfeiters sometimes contact his business, which targets businesses and organizations.

"We do get these calls from time to time," he said. "We slam these people down. Or you get these e-mails from kids all the time asking for things like holograms for different states. It's problematic, but I do not know what you can do."

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