In the state of Michigan, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol, consume alcohol or possess alcohol. The problem is, I’m Scottish, and I really like to purchase, consume and possess alcohol. A lot. And so I decided – like a lot of other under-21-year olds before me – that I would try to get a fake I.D. I’m not the kind of person who just throws caution to the wind (unless I’m drunk), and so before setting out to get a fake I.D., I thought I would explore my options. My first big decision was whether to try and get someone else’s real I.D. or try and purchase one with my picture and a false birth date.
A friend of mine had told me that using an I.D. with someone else’s name and picture on it was a more serious offense than using one with my own name and picture, because it constituted identity theft. However, according to Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown, my friend was wrong.
I would only be charged with identity theft if there was proof of either intent to defraud for financial gain or proof that I had in fact attempted to use the I.D. to defraud for financial gain. Detective Sergeant Jeff Connelly of the Ann Arbor Police Department confirmed this as well, saying that use or possession of an I.D. that had been forged or using someone else’s I.D. would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum 90 days in jail, and a $500 fine. In fact, only 32 states even have laws that directly prohibit the transfer of I.D.s, and my home state of Missouri isn’t one of them.
Unfortunately I don’t go to school in my home state of Missouri, and Michigan does have a law that directly prohibits the transfer of I.D.s.
I found that I could either shell out a lot of cash on a really good fake I.D. with all the works – my picture, black lightable, scannable – or I could try and spend $20 on something some kid made in Adobe Photoshop, which I could only use in places that card as a formality.
But in my search, I came across a picture-perfect solution. I discovered a website that actually sells fake I.D.s: www.fakeidgroup.org. Don’t get your hopes up, I didn’t end up getting the I.D. But the experience of trying to get it was interesting itself. Anyway, so there I was, looking at a website that sold fake I.D.’s, that they said were guaranteed. They even had pictures of “satisfied customers,” many of whom were young women flashing the camera, as if their fake I.D.s had landed them in the center of a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ photo shoot. It suddenly became clear that it was my duty as a journalist to investigate this site.
I wanted to find out a bit more about the penalties before proceeding. Brown and Connelly had made it clear that the charge for having an I.D. could be considered possession of a forged license, which is a misdemeanor. However, forging a state document is a felony offense, and if I tried to make one myself on a computer, I could be charged with using a computer to commit a crime, which is also a felony. Connelly told me that the F.B.I. investigated operation that had been producing a large amount of fake New Jersey licenses on North Campus. So instead of making my own and dealing with the FBI, I decided I was willing to spend a little money and buy one.
At this point, the threat of punishment didn’t deter me from pursuing my goal. But the disorganization of the website did. The layout and setup of the site was deceptively professional. But after I had filled out an order form with my name, address and other “novelty information,” I was told to list my e-mail address, so that I could receive a “confirmation e-mail” containing further instructions.
The e-mail said that I would be required to wire the money to a person in Egypt, and that as soon as he had received the funds, my order would be processed. There was also a cautionary note at the bottom of the e-mail.
This is the un-altered text from the message:
***Although our Western Union Receiver is located in Egypt our production facility is not. When your funds are picked up by our receiver we are immediately notified and begin filling your order. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES do we support terrorism and therefore do NOT and will NOT pick up the payment or fill any order for anyone of Arab decent. We also will NOT produce any product for any customer, regardless of your ethnicity, that has a shipping address to an Arab country. We are not racist, but wish to have no dealings with anyone that could use our products for any terrorist act.***
It’s needless to say that my first reaction was a beyond skeptical.
“Either these guys just rip off American kids, or this is a set-up from the F.B.I.,” I thought to myself. But I decided to try to wire the money anyway, (The Daily was covering my expenses, so I didn’t really have that much to lose). I logged on to the Western Union website and filled out the necessary forms to start the money transfer. But as soon as I had pressed the “submit my order” button on the screen, I got a message that asked me to check my e-mail to confirm my transaction. Apparently, I needed to have a three-way call between a clerk from Western Union and a teller from my bank in order to verify this transaction. When I asked the clerk, who told me her name was LaHonda, why this was necessary, she only said, “We just need to confirm some things.”
Great, I thought. I envisioned S.W.A.T. crashing through the windows of the Student Publications Building where I was placing my order and being arrested and dragged out through the front door. But it goes a bit more smoothly than that.
My teller says his name is Tad, and I figure that anybody with a name that ridiculous has to be legitimate. He asks me a series of questions, such as my mother’s maiden name and the amount of my last transaction. After a few more, they tell me everything is fine and that my transaction is complete. But about ten minutes later I get another call from LaHonda, and she tells me that my transaction was cancelled because Western Union has had problems with that money collector in the past.
Defeated, I now turn to ‘what ifs.” What would have happened if I had gotten an I.D. and tried to use it at a bar or a liquor store? The I.D. could definitely get confiscated, but how likely would I be to get in trouble with the law? Detective Connelly told me that a few years back, a couple of officers from the AAPD spent a night out at the bars. On duty. Connelly said that a police officer who was not in uniform stood at the door next to a bouncer. When a bouncer recognized a fake I.D., he would hand it to the officer standing next to him.
“Is this you? Because if it’s not, I’m gonna ding you twice,” the officer would ask the minor. He or she would be charged with fraudulent use of an I.D., and lying to a police officer.
“No it’s not me,” the minor would usually reply.
Connelly said that this proved to be a rather effective method of law enforcement.
“We probably only issued about ten or maybe 15 tickets, but you’d of thought we issued 10,000,” Connelly said, though he added that he knew that fake I.D.s were still out there and being used a lot and that he didn’t really expect the problem to fully evaporate. I was glad to hear this.
Even though I didn’t get the Daily to buy me a fake I.D., I’m still getting paid to write about what ended up being my experience producing nothing and learning a lot. I have also come to appreciate Michigan parties a lot more. In fact, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has thrown a party and not required I.D. to drink from the keg. And not charging for cups. That’s awesome, too.