I once overheard someone say that once you turn 21, Boston’s nightlife scene transforms the city into a Disneyland. Like antsy little kids, the under-21 crowd waits in line for their chance at some amusement. Those anxious thrill-seekers who just can’t bear the hold-up jump out of line and nab their own version of a “fast pass”: a fake ID.
Most underage college students acquire fake IDs for the obvious reason: to get drunk. Beyond that motivation exists a litany of sub-reasons: to get into clubs, to get into bars, to start their own liquor-supplying “business.” One BU sophomore says he got his ID because he enjoys playing poker but is forbidden from doing so in a casino because of his age. The nineteen year old calls himself “limited” in how he can spend his free time. “I wanted to get a fake ID, basically, to open up options for myself,” he said.
Having made up his mind to acquire a fake, the sophomore visited “fake21.com” and, along with four other friends, put in an order for counterfeit New York State driver’s licenses. Fake21.com’s homepage features links to frequently asked questions, pricing, order forms, product examples, even information on joining the business and becoming a reseller; all the makings of a legitimate company website. However, where a legitimate company might display some memorable logo, Fake21.com has a photo of several counterfeit licenses forming the word “fake.” Its site is graphically bare-boned and sketchy. Other websites like “IdChief.ph” run a similar business. Patrons pay via money transfers using, for example, Western Union. These plastic tickets to intoxication run for a staggering $100 on average.
Sites like “Fake 21” and “ID Chief” acknowledge the illegal nature of their business. The home page of “Fake 21” claims its customers are 18-20 year old college students who will be using the IDs to gain entry to 21+ bars and clubs, but not necessarily drinking. “Fake 21” instructs customers to create a new e-mail account using Google Mail only in their correspondences with the website. They manufacture and sell only New York State fake drivers licenses in order to distribute what they call the highest quality possible in counterfeit identification cards. They assure customers that their United States-based location means the packages will never go through customs. Their efforts seem exhaustive. The irony lies in the fact that these detailed instructions to committing an illegal act are displayed prominently on a website on the public domain.
The “ID Chief” business attempts to safeguard itself from legal consequences in a different way. Customers are asked to read a section of the page titled “Legal and Terms” (excuse their obvious lack of knowledge of the English language). The section begins, “Ever watch those TV shows like CSI 24 LAW AND ORDER HAWAII FIVE?? Maybe you just need to be part of a movie. Here is how it is legal.” The lengthy passage requests that buyers not use these cards to break any of their country’s laws. If it weren’t for U.S. laws against underage drinking, however, “ID Chief” wouldn’t exist, and the feigned naiveté is hardly sufficient grounds for covering their bases. Plus, the broken English and attempted pop culture references are far from reassuring for a customer skeptical of the business’ legitimacy.
Perpetually money-hungry college students sometimes take matters into their own hands and start their own fake reselling business. One of the fake ID owners I spoke with had purchased his ID from a classmate. He got wind the student had been facilitating transactions from “ID Chief” and that the IDs had scanned successfully when used in a liquor store. The fake ID reselling business transforms dorm rooms into storefronts. Straight-A students become pros at lying and wiring money to make a buck. The allure of fast cash and the huge market of underage, thirsty students make a college city like Boston ripe for this sort of small-scale counterfeit distribution.
By Massachusetts law, any person found manufacturing, distributing, or in possession of a fake identification card is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to arrest. Persons who lie about their age to engage in the purchasing of alcohol are subject to a $300 fine. The Boston University Police Department upholds the laws of the state of Massachusetts, however as stated on the BUPD website, “The University’s standards of personal conduct substantially exceed the minimum expectations of civil law and custom.” BU has the right to expel students for violation of the university’s code of conduct; underage possession of alcohol, perhaps purchased with use of a fake ID, constitutes a violation.
Most students are well aware of the legislation as well as the BU rules and regulations surrounding underage drinking. “I’m afraid of getting it taken away from me but more afraid of getting caught with it,” one student said. Despite his fear he feels his college experience “will be a lot more fun having it.” Still another underage student acknowledged the risks, but seemed to have adopted an air of confidence on the matter, saying, “I realize that having a fake is illegal, as is underage drinking, but I consider myself to be responsible in both behaviors and I’m aware of the consequences.”
Maybe it’s society’s fault. Underage college students are met with adult responsibilities but are treated like juveniles under the law, unable to enjoy a drink or enter an establishment because a matter of months separates them from peers of legal age. All of the fake ID owners I encountered were somewhat torn when asked whether or not the government should lower the drinking age. Some felt it would reduce the problem of binge drinking and have a desensitizing effect. The same students also took into account the possibility that it would simply push the median age of underage drinkers dangerously lower, to 14 and 15-year-olds. The hypothetical effects make for scary thoughts, but it is beyond the current realm of possibility. Because of this, the eager and the underage are compelled to buy fakes.
This weekend, somewhere at BU, the same student who diligently memorizes mathematical formulas and anatomical structures will be memorizing the zodiac sign and hometown of an identity imprinted on a piece of plastic. “Fast pass” in hand, they’ll approach whatever bar, club, or liquor store counter and knowingly risk its confiscation in the name of what they hope will be a good time.