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An Age-Old Problem : Those cheesy fake IDs of your youth have gone high-tech. And the penalties for using them can be stiff.

June 20, 1995|DENNIS ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Remember the days when acquiring fake ID meant scissors, glue and a good typewriter?

These days fake IDs have gone high-tech. And the stakes are high as well.

Gone is the time of the lumpy driver's license with a 17-year-old's face pasted to a 28-year-old's driving vitae. The state made things harder in 1991 by adding holograms and magnetic strips to licenses. But enterprising teen-agers eager for beer are never far behind. Fake IDs now come with genuine-looking holograms, magnetic strips and a hefty price tag: $50 and up. Many kids have taken to using phony birth certificates to procure real California identification cards. Some even order fake out-of-state IDs through the mail.

"Kids are doing it differently from when you and your friends were going to school," said Sacramento-based DMV fraud investigator Janice Friedli. "The old licenses were relatively easy to alter. Today we are seeing more and more college students buying high-tech counterfeit licenses. We think they're getting them from Los Angeles."

Indeed, despite the authorities' efforts to up the high-tech ante, getting fake identification is as easy as ever in Los Angeles, teens said.

"I can get a fake ID from someone my dad knows," said one Pasadena teen-ager.

"You can get them at MacArthur Park and on Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park," said one South-Central 17-year-old. "You can get a lot there. It's known. $50."

7th Street and Alvarado--MacArthur Park--is the fake ID center of Southern California, authorities say. Although illicit street vendors market their wares mainly to undocumented immigrants, the underage are also big clients. "Kids are recognized for what they are and they're approached," said Shirley Baumann, also a DMV investigator. "It's a shame it's so easy."

Under a hot sun and surrounded by hot-dog peddlers and pawn shops on 7th Street, vendors are hustling fake IDs to a young man. "Did you bring a picture?" asks one. "Eighty dollars."

Authorities say they have tried repeatedly to wipe out the wide-spread trade at MacArthur Park, but often find dozens of new vendors willing to take the place of those arrested. "There are so many," Friedli said, that even when officers are combing the area "they're still there."

That leaves authorities in a position to target teens.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is working with bar owners to catch fake-ID holders in the act, Baumann said. The possible consequences of minors using a fake card are felony prosecution, between $250 and $1,000 in fines, up to 32 hours of community service and as much as six months in county jail. And a one-year suspension of driving privileges. Attempting to buy a fake ID is also a crime, punishable by up to $250 in fines, up to 36 hours of community service and a one-year suspension of driving privileges for those under 21.

The DMV investigates up to 4,000 cases of ID fraud a year, and the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control is stepping up enforcement, Baumann said. "If you're going to choose to do this . . . you might get away with it 20 times, but eventually you'll get caught."

Of course, there are ways around using a fake ID, from frequenting liquor stores that routinely don't ask for ID to taking road trips to Tijuana, where the legal drinking age is 18.

But those roads are getting harder to travel. Since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year upheld the legitimacy of decoy programs--which enlist minors to buy alcohol in an attempt to nab liquor store owners who sell to them--police departments are once again conducting sting operations. And San Diego Police are arresting teen-agers suspected of being under the influence as they return from Mexico. State law says those under 21 with even a hint of alcohol in their systems (a blood alcohol reading of 0.01%) can have their licenses revoked.

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Bars are getting tougher on enforcement too. Particularly since summertime is prime time for fake-ID sightings.

"If the ID is phony, we hold it or destroy it," said William Anderson, head of security at Yankee Doodles in Santa Monica. "If it belongs to someone else, we hold it until the legitimate owner comes for it."

The ABC advises bar owners and bartenders to use the FLAG system: Feel the ID (for lumps, cuts); look for the California state seals, the holograms and the date of birth and description; ask the holder for his or her middle name, address, even zodiac sign; give it back, even if it's fake. (ABC officials discourage confiscation of IDs because there's no law that gives clubs the authority to take someone's property.)

"Licensees are being much more careful about carding people," said ABC spokesman Carl DeWing. This is due, in part, to tougher enforcement as well as stiff penalties (ranging from a warning to fines of $750 to $6,000 to suspension and revocation of their liquor license) against owners and bartenders who sell to minors.

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