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Arizona Department of Liquor assistant director Lee Hill talks about fake IDs, March 31, 2016. Mark Henle | azcentral.com
Lee Hill, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Liquor, needed the right visual to showcase the problem of fraudulent IDs in Arizona. A glass jar resembling a giant shot glass was perfect — but she had to fill it with hundreds of fakes in just a few days for her on-camera appearance.
She placed a friendly bet with a department officer: If he could fill the 2-foot-tall glass jar with confiscated fraudulent identification cards in just one weekend, she would give him $100.
"I just said there's no way he could do it," Hill said.
The following week, Department of Liquor Officer Craig Miller brought Hill boxes of fake IDs collected from establishments in Scottsdale and Tempe. Hill stopped counting after 5,500 — she knew she lost the bet.
The numbers of IDs were jarring to Hill and her staff. Since then, the department regularly collects fraudulent IDs gathered by police agencies and liquor establishments.
Although some fake IDs are comically bad, the consequences can be severe. Hill said students with forged-document charges on their record are unable to take important exams like the Law School Admissions Test or tests to become a registered nurse.
“In one second, your life changed forever,” Hill said. “You can’t undo it.”
In 2015, Tempe bouncers, bartenders and police seized 1,556 fake IDs, according to the department. That was down from previous years, when totals were closer to 1,900.
Mill Avenue bar Gringo Star seized the most fraudulent IDs, handing over 301 fakes to the police department. El Hefe and Mill Cue Club, neighbors to Gringo Star, came in second and third with 260 and 256 IDs seized, respectively.
El Hefe saw 27 people arrested, the most of the Mill Avenue bars in 2015. Zuma Grill had 20 arrests, while Mill Cue Club had 13.
Here's what you need to know about fake IDs:
Where are most fraudulent IDs collected?
Hill said the number of fake IDs confiscated in Valley cities has remained consistent the past few years. Arizona’s three university towns — Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson — see the most fraudulent IDs. Hill said downtown Scottsdale also ranks near the top.
She noted most fake IDs are from outside of Arizona, likely a result of the large out-of-state student population.
“(College students) may think it would be less likely that an out-of-state license would be detected,” Hill said.
Do bars really check that closely?
The Arizona Department of Liquor licenses businesses that serve alcohol. These establishments are responsible for ensuring everyone consuming alcohol is 21 or older.
Tempe police and Tempe's Downtown District establishments work together to identify and seize fraudulent IDs. Mill Cue Club owner Dennis Alexander said there’s no room for taking chances.
“We can’t mess around with it,” Alexander said. “There’s too much liability.”
Businesses rely on door hands as a first line of defense against fraudulent IDs. Security personnel are trained regularly and receive updates on design changes of all state IDs.
Both Valley police departments and the Arizona Department of Liquor provide regular training sessions for bars, especially those near college towns. Training information includes examples of popular fake-ID designs and updates on security features.
Gringo Star head of security Cory Graciano said he gives people two options: Walk away or face police.
“Be prepared to get it (a fake ID) taken away,” Graciano said. “Don’t argue if it’s not you. People who get fined or go to jail tend to argue about it.”
What are the most common mistakes?
Homemade IDs, which can cost around $200 to create, miss the mark in the details of the card, according to Tempe Bike Sgt. Robert Ferarro. Police and door security can spot a fake easily when the ID is missing well-hidden security features and micro-printing that a legitimate ID would have.
Flimsy paper, doctored photos and misspelled abbreviations for hair and eye color also are dead giveaways of a fake.
Body language often plays a role in detecting a person’s honesty in fraudulent-ID cases, especially when confronted by police. Nervous posture, shifty eyes and the habit of answering a question with another question are signs of deceitful behavior, Ferarro said.
“When you’re talking to a police officer and you consciously know that you’re lying, you give off some tale-tell signs,” he said.
What are the consequences?
Several Arizona statues punish underage persons who use fraudulent IDs to either purchase alcohol or gain entry to a licensed liquor establishment. Those include arrest, heavy fines and potentially a night in jail.
If the door hand suspects an ID is fraudulent, liquor establishments often will give an individual the opportunity to walk away. However, if he or she challenges the bar, police are called.
Police also will give the person a chance to come clean. If the person admits to using a fraudulent ID, he or she receives a ticket. In Tempe, the citation of a first-time offender can be wiped clean by taking an alcohol diversion class — allowing the person to avoid court.
But if the person continues to deny the ID is fraudulent, police will launch an investigation to determine its legitimacy. If the ID is deemed fake, police will make an arrest for using false identification and giving false information to a police officer.
A person will spend the night in jail, Tempe's Ferarro said. Tempe police visit establishments on Mill Avenue at least three times a night, he said.
“Your best course of action is to tell us the truth and we’ll work through it,” Ferarro said. “We all make mistakes, and it’s better to be honest about it instead of making us go through an investigation.”
When an ID is real but does not belong to the person presenting it, it is sent back to the Motor Vehicle Division. The owner of the license is at risk of having his or her license suspended for up to six months.