Steamboat Springs Central Park Liquor owner Greg Nealy often spends a lot of time with a customer's driver's license. He bends it, twists it and compares the picture on it to the face looking at him from across the counter, all to ensure the person buying alcohol is 21 years old.
But technological advancements make producing, selling and buying fake IDs easier than ever. It also makes spotting and confiscating them harder, many local business owners said.
"I don't know how these kids are making these things or where they are getting them, but some of them are really good," Nealy said. "There are times you wouldn't even know they were fake."
Business owners say the availability and sophistication of fake IDs puts them at risk of incurring severe fines, jail time and suspension or loss of liquor licenses. It also makes it harder to combat underage drinking.
The issue came up in October, when the Steamboat Springs City Council debated and ultimately approved an ordinance that added liquor license suspensions and revocations to a schedule of administrative sanctions it can assess against businesses caught illegally selling alcohol.
City Council members began studying a revised ordinance after nine of 11 liquor stores failed a police compliance check in September.
Shortly after the failed compliance check, a 20-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of providing alcohol he bought at a downtown liquor store to a minor. The man told police he was not asked for identification.
Police said they have noticed several businesses stepping up their vigilance and calling law enforcement agencies to report suspicious IDs or people.
Police Capt. Joel Rae said it's a step in the right direction.
"We had one store call just to have us come over and check it out, and that's exactly what we want to hear," he said.
Rae said the police department collects hundreds of fake IDs each year, turned over to them by area businesses. However, the police department does not keep records of the IDs it collects. Instead, they're immediately sent to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the agency responsible for issuing IDs to Colorado drivers.
Although it's great that businesses are catching and confiscating fraudulent IDs, Rae said prosecuting underage people who use them is virtually impossible. Most minors caught with fake IDs leave the store or restaurant immediately after the incident, making it extremely difficult for police to track them down.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, the bouncer or clerk will take an ID card they know is fake, and the kid just takes off. They're not going to sit there and just wait around," Rae said.
Rae encourages businesses to immediately call police when they confiscate a fake ID because it helps officers track the minor and can lead to an arrest or fine.
"We want them to call us as soon as possible when a clerk thinks it's a fake or fraudulent ID so we can try to catch that person, rather than the clerk just collecting it and giving it to us in a few months," he said.
The Routt County District Attorney's Office did not return phone calls to discuss how many cases, if any, they have prosecuted involving minors caught with fake IDs.
Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill owner Charlie Noble understands how difficult it is to prosecute a minor who uses a fake ID. During recent City Council meetings, Noble expressed his concerns about bartenders and owners facing strict punishment when they permit an alcohol sale made as a result of a fake ID.
To Noble, the city's new ordinance leaves too much gray area when it comes to fake IDs -- especially high-quality ones -- and how to punish businesses that permit sales obtained with those fraudulent identifications.
"Our policy is that you card people. We do take checking IDs seriously, but there might be times when one really good fake gets by," he said.
For that reason, Noble was pleased when the City Council gave itself flexibility in its suspension guidelines to take into consideration special circumstances such as fake IDs.
Misdemeanor or felony?
Rae said using a fake ID often is a misdemeanor traffic offense, because it usually is a driver's license. But it can become a felony offense, depending on other circumstances.
To prosecute a minor who has used a fake ID, officers must be able to prove the minor was using the ID to purchase alcohol, Rae said. For example, if a minor uses an ID to get into a bar or restaurant, it is not enough evidence to prove the individual was using it to purchase an alcoholic beverage. However, if a minor gives the fake ID to a bartender or waiter specifically to purchase a drink, there is enough cause to assume the minor was using the ID to purchase alcohol, he said.
Regardless of whether the minor tries to purchase alcohol, it always is illegal to use an ID that belongs to someone else or that is doctored or replicated.
Using a fake ID or an instruction permit under a traffic code is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which is punishable by as many as six months in jail and a $750 fine. Using a fake ID under a liquor code is a Class 2 misdemeanor and is punishable by as many as 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Rae said using a fake ID becomes a felony when the user tries to forge the name on the ID for the purchase of alcohol or merchandise worth $500 or more. Depending on the severity of the forgery, the person could face one to 12 years in jail. Using a fake ID also is a felony when the user impersonates another person to get out of a ticket or arrest.
Rae said if a minor uses a legitimate driver's license or another form of ID but the minor is not the person the card was issued to, the same penalties apply to him or her as they would to someone who used a computer-generated or altered card.
A simple computer search shows that there are more than 1 million Web sites that boast next-day delivery on fake IDs, instructions for making fake IDs and how to avoid getting them taken away.
A minor can easily buy a fake ID for less than $25, though most cost about $100.
Most states recently have made duplicating or doctoring ID cards more difficult by adding holograms, magnetic strips or bar codes to their ID cards.
Colorado driver's licenses use a magnetic strip, bar code and hologram to make it more difficult to replicate a card.
The Bottleneck owner John Marshall, like other business owners, has taken strong measures to ensure fake IDs are not being used in his establishment.
Marshall installed scanners at his liquor store so clerks can scan an ID card to determine its authenticity.
"In this day of computer-generated IDs and printers, we need to redouble our efforts, and we have," he said.
"The scanners will help eliminate false IDs as a problem. No, the technology isn't perfect, but it will help."
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