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Faking 21: How bouncers catch fake IDs and underage students get past the rope

Photo illustration by Sarah Squire
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Published September 5, 2011

Editor's note: The Michigan Daily chose to keep the writer anonymous due to the illegal activities the writer participated in and includes in the story.

Sarah Squire/Daily

How real is your fake?

Some imperfections the bouncers are looking for: glue lines; raised edges at the photo; no shadows on the photo background; keys or “authentic” in the hologram; alterations in the state logo; writing on the back; matching signature; height of person; color of card features; blurry text or printing; magnetic strip embedded in the card; uniform font; alterations in the DOB; correct holograms; peeling at the edges; texture and weight; printing details

Insider's Tip: The only ‘t’ on the old Michigan ID that doesn’t have a curve at the bottom is in “Height”

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9 p.m. | The seat of the chair is worn, and I can feel the frayed edges of the leather as my feet hang above the ground. The air is hot and sticky just inside the door.

A few tables are open, and the crowd at the bar is only one person deep. The lights are dimmed, but it doesn’t seem particularly dark. I don’t notice the volume of the other noise in the bar.

“We’re not FBI agents. We’re not supposed to be experts at spotting every little detail in a fake ID,” said Russell Dobson, picking up from where he left off. “Like you said, you can buy some of these IDs from China that look 100 percent authentic, and they’re hard to catch.”

Five minutes earlier on the Thursday of Welcome Week, I walked into Good Time Charley’s and handed Dobson, a bouncer at the popular campus bar on South University Avenue, one of my fake IDs — a driver’s license from Maine that shows I’m 22 and living at an address I never bothered to memorize.

He let me in.


It’s 7:30 p.m. in the middle of August. The sun is still up. Almost all the tables outside are filled, seated for dinner, but inside the tables are mostly empty.

Kyle Froelich, the manager at Charley’s known simply as "Fro," towers over me, and even when we’re seated at a table, it’s hard not to feel intimidated — scared even.

But it’s not his height that’s getting to me. Two weeks ago I was here celebrating my 21st birthday. And months before that I was here drinking illegally, handing one of my four IDs to the servers and bouncers at the door after 9 p.m.

Now here I am, sitting down for my first interview, hoping that when I make it to the end I have enough courage to spread my contraband on the table, look each of the gatekeepers to my social life in the eye and tell them: You served alcohol to a minor.


Since May 2008, a handful of Ann Arbor restaurants and stores with liquor licenses have been charged with “sale to minor” by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. However, none of these have been at the more popular downtown bars, in which bar entry after 9 p.m. for anyone under the age of 21 is illegal — though some legally allow minors in the bar or restaurant if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

According to Douglas Lewis, the director of Student Legal Services, many students in Ann Arbor caught with fake identification are not turned over to police by the bars.

“A person will be asked for their identification. When they fumble for it, the fake is visible inside of their wallet or purse,” Lewis said. “You don’t have to be buying alcohol, simply possessing (a fake ID) is illegal.”

Using false or another person’s identification to purchase alcohol is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail, a fine no more than $100 or both, according to Sgt. Bob Pfannes of the Ann Arbor Police Department Professional Standards Section.

Students aren’t the only ones at risk. Employees at Ann Arbor bars can be cited with a misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both for the first offense for knowingly allowing the use of false identification.

Additionally, three citations at a single location within one year can result in a suspension of the bar’s liquor license, said Pfannes.

Though the penalty is severe, many bars accept that they can’t catch every fake — and when it comes to the law they don’t have to.

The Michigan Liquor Control Code asks businesses to make a “diligent inquiry” — this is further defined as a “diligent good faith effort” using an official photo ID — to verify the person’s identity and age. While the MLCC provides several resources to help businesses meet this requirement, how bars decide to screen their customers is left up to the owners.


In December, I bought my second fake ID.