SNOW HILL — New, difficult to detect fake IDs have the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) asking government officials and local businesses to help them crackdown on underage alcohol sales.
“These IDs are popping up all over Ocean City,” OCPD Sgt. Doug Smith warned the Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Wednesday.
Smith, along with Corporal Mark Wolinsky and Public Information Officer Mike Levy, visited the BLC to demonstrate methods to identify the new fake licenses as well as to ask the board’s help in alerting the business community to the problem.
The IDs are advanced enough to pass through most traditional checks, even electronic ones, said Smith. However, once clerks and bartenders know what to look for, he explained that the fakes are easy to spot.
Ordered online from a website going by the name of “ID Chief,” the fakes are being generated overseas in China and being illegally shipped into the U.S., often hidden in other products.
“They’re not coming from the United States,” said Smith.
Despite the clandestine approach, Smith told the board that the IDs are easy to get through the Internet and quickly becoming common.
“Every person in college is getting these,” Smith said.
“Everybody is aware of these,” Wolinsky agreed.
Smith added that hundreds of the ID Chiefs have been confiscated this summer in Ocean City, with bars like Seacrets and Macky’s being the most proactive about spotting the fakes. According to Smith, he might receive a dozen or more from either establishment on a busy night. The problem isn’t just confined to the Eastern Shore, however.
“Philadelphia Police are going nuts over these things,” said Smith.
Smith added that the ID’s are showing up all over the country and have become such a persistent issue Maryland State Police (MSP) has been forced to adjust some of its programs specifically to catch the fakes.
“MSP adapted,” Smith told the BLC.
The new, high-tech licenses look almost identical to the real article. The website, which has a list of about 10 states to choose from when crafting a fake ID, can even imbed realistic holograms and barcodes that will pass through many typical scanners. It’s an “industrialized” approach to false identification that the OCPD has never seen before.
“Things change. Trends change,” Smith said. “We’ve got to accept the fact that it’s out there.”
What really shocked Smith is the level of faith users of ID Chief have in the product. Not only are the fakes making appearances in bars and liquor stores, they are even turning up in traffic violations and other criminal cases.
“They [users] are so confident in these IDs they think they can pass them off to police,” Smith said. “That’s scary to me.”
Despite the high level of technology, Smith revealed that the IDs are incredibly simple to spot as long as you know what to look for. He passed around a number of real driver’s licenses and fake ID Chiefs among the commissioners and explained how to tell the difference between the two. If bent slightly, Smith said, the lamination on a real ID will remain smooth. If an ID Chief is bent, however, the lamination will develop a noticeable crease.
“All ID Chiefs are immediately going to bubble [if bent],” said Smith, “every one of them.”
Another easy check is to shine a common, halogen flashlight through the ID. In a real license, the light will appear clear or white when shone through the card, but becomes pinkish if shone through an ID Chief. Other tip-offs could include discrepancies in font and other minor anomalies in the look and feel of the card. If there’s any doubt, said Smith, a clerk or bartender should contact the OCPD.
“What we’re trying to do is to be proactive and create partnerships with businesses,” said Levy.
While places like Seacrets and Macky’s received a nod from OCPD, Smith did inform the board that they were an exception, and that most businesses weren’t spotting the fakes in anywhere near those numbers. However, he told the board that it was mainly an issue of awareness, and that if more owners and their employees knew about the IDs and how to catch them, then underage alcohol sales would drop in Ocean City.
According to Smith, OCPD cadets are already using confiscated licenses to attempt to make purchases from local stores and bars. And despite the fact that the confiscated ID’s don’t have the cadet’s actual picture on them, Smith said that there has been a “95 percent failure ratio,” with the overwhelming majority of businesses selling to the underage cadet. He theorized that, since the ID Chiefs can slip past most license scanners, the clerks accept that as confirmation without doing a detailed comparison between the cadet and the picture on the ID.
In response, Smith asked that the board consider making special training mandatory for businesses that fail to spot a cadet using a confiscated ID Chief.
“We need to force some education on some of these establishments,” said Smith.
“We’ll cooperate in any way we can,” agreed BLC Chairman William Esham.
With the board supporting businesses attending special OCPD training, Smith was confident that fewer and fewer of the ID Chiefs will slip through the cracks in the future. One other problem that he mentioned, though not as serious as the fake licenses, was the “phone chain” between some local businesses and bars that makes it difficult for the OCPD to perform thorough spot checks with cadets.
According to Smith, once one business realizes that it has been checked by the OCPD, it will often contact other businesses, spreading the word that underage police cadets are out on that particular night, and therefore, clerks and bartenders need to pay extra attention to who they serve.
Between group texts, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, Levy admitted that it’s hard for the OCPD to stay off the radar while performing spot checks on businesses. However, he called technology a “double-edged sword” that the police could use to their own advantage.
“We’re very progressive technologically,” he said of his department.
Levy said businesses that do take part in the chain are only hurting themselves and the town by interfering with enforcement.