How to Spot A Fake ID: A Step-by-Step Guide

As a business owner who sells tobacco, alcohol, or cannabis, avoiding accidental sales to minors is one of your prime responsibilities.

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But it’s not the only thing you need to worry about, because your staff is also responsible for knowing how to spot a fake ID.

The statistics on this aren’t comforting:

  • According to one study, almost two thirds of college students have used false IDs to buy alcohol.
  • 9 out of 10 parents believe that teens would most likely be able to obtain alcohol by using a fake ID.
  • Approximately 10.8 million youth between the ages 12-20 regularly consume alcohol. One-fourth of all minors who drink obtain their alcohol through the use of a fake ID.

Bottom line: fake IDs are a real problem.

And if your establishment is accepting fake IDs (knowingly or not) you’re at risk of being hit with crippling fines or even a criminal misdemeanorAnd yes, you can get caught at anytime.

You and your employees need to have a foolproof strategy that ensures you know how to spot a fake ID, and have adequate measures in place.

Bonus: How To Spot A Fake ID Checklist

Let us know where to send the checklist that covers the steps in this post you can print out and give to your employees.

Below we’ve laid out the four steps you should take to make sure you avoid liability, fines, or worse.

Let's take a look.

Step 1: Read The Card and The Cardholder

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One of the best ways to spot a fake ID is to examine both the ID card and the cardholder.

A lot of the time, you can tell if someone is using a fake ID by examining their body language. If they seem tense and refuse to make eye contact with you, you should consider it a huge red flag.

With that said, they may simply be having a bad day and desperately need the pack of smokes they are attempting to buy.

So remember, the proof is in the pudding. Be sure to thoroughly check the card for any inconsistencies or manufacturing defects (see below).

If They Are Nervous, It Might Be a Fake ID

Before the cardholder hands you the ID card, you can assess his body language to see whether or not he is trustworthy.

If he seems nervous, you have good reason to suspect foul play and should be skeptical that he might have a fake ID.

Feel The Card for Anything Suspicious

You should also feel the card to see if it feels legitimate.

If it feels like a fake ID, it probably is.

Often times fake IDs will be made of a different material, be the wrong size or be too thick.

In some cases, the photo image will be plastered over, so if the photo feels like it has been placed on manually, it is more than likely a fake ID.

Look for Misspellings to Spot a Fake ID

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Believe it or not, misspellings on a fake ID are fairly common.

While it can be subtle, if there is the slightest misspelling of a word, the omission of a hyphen or any other grammatical or spelling error, the card is a fake.

A misspelling on a legal ID is completely unheard of, so if you spot a misspelling, then you’ve spotted a fake ID.

Check Their Height and Weight

Checking the height is another great way to see if an ID is fake.

While weight can fluctuate, and therefore isn’t as good of a judging tool, height very seldom will change.

And even though it may seem as if height is a detail a fake ID user would make sure not to overlook, you can oftentimes catch a fake ID user making obvious mistakes such as having the wrong height listed on their ID.

So if it says they are 6-foot-3 on their identification card, but they look no taller than 5-foot-6, then it’s probably a fake.

Compare Signatures to See if They Are Different

You can double-check the ID by having customers of questionable age sign for their purchase.

If their signature looks completely different than the signature on their license, the ID might be fake.

With that said, if it is only slightly different, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Step 2: Check The Microprint and State Specific Watermarks

Checking the microprint to determine how to spot a fake ID has grown in popularity over the last ten years.

Since it is incredibly difficult for those who make fake IDs to include a microprint, almost every fake ID lacks it.

Therefore, if you can properly check the microprint on a license, then you can almost certainly prevent any minors from pulling one over on you.

With that said, it isn’t always easy.

The microprint is almost always in a different location depending on which state the card is from, and you can barely see the microprint with the naked eye.

What Is Microprint?

Microprint is a security feature that currently forty eight states implement to help detect fake IDs.

While every state is different, this excerpt from the 2016 license update gives a good indication of all the manufacturing and security features a license consists of:

“The ID card resembles the driver’s license (minor’s is vertical) except 'COLORADO' header is in red. Security features include UV (front and back), some tactile printing and microprinting, a clear window with image of license holder, and color-shifting ink”

How to Check for Microprint

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As previously mentioned, microprint is very difficult to see with the naked eye.

However, you can clearly see the microprint on a valid ID with the help of a magnifying glass.

After you determine where to check on the card - you can consult your local DMV to find out - purchase a good, quality magnifying glass and practice with your own license. You should be able to see the words clearly after you magnify it.

The Keesing Documentchecker Guide included in our Fake ID Checking Guide Bundle also includes specific instructions on what microprint to look for, and where, for each type of state ID.

How to Spot a Fake ID by State: Check for State Specific Watermarks

Because every state license is different, you’ll also want to have your staff familiar with the state-specific water marks present on the IDs they’ll regularly be checking.

If your staff is well versed in these watermarks, they’ll be more likely to be able to quickly spot a fake ID even if that ID is not one from your home state.

Step 3: Use a Scanner or Hold Under UV Light

Most certainly, the quickest way to tell if an ID meets the age requirement is to use an age verification scanner, which will quickly tells you how old the cardholder is.

While it doesn’t tell you whether or not a license is fake, it will tell you whether or not a license is suspended and how old the card says the person in question is.

It’s way too easy to miscalculate age in your head and having a good scanner can prevent that from ever happening.

Another great method for spotting a fake ID is by holding a license under a UV light.

Hold The License Under an Ultraviolet Light

Another popular method for spotting fake IDs is to hold the ID under an ultraviolet light.

Of course, you must know exactly what to look for when you do so, and you will need to have a good understanding of what makes your state license unique.

Step 4: Ask Questions or for Second Form of Identification

If the cardholder has passed the first three steps, and yet you still have doubts, you can run him through this last verification technique.

If you ask the cardholder a simple question and he is unable to answer it or hesitates for an extended amount of time, there is a good chance the ID is fake.

Also, another quick verification method is to ask to see another form of identification.

If they are able to provide another valid form of ID, then there is little to no reason to doubt the legitimacy of their age.

Ask Simple Questions On The License The Cardholder Should Know

If I were to ask you your middle name, you would know the answer. If I were to ask you the year you were born in, you would probably know the answer to that as well.

However, many fake ID owners might not know this information considering they have to lie about it.

So a quick test is certainly a great way to spot a fake ID.

Here are a few questions you can ask:

  •      What is your middle name?
  •      What year were you born?
  •      What year did you graduate high school?
  •      How tall are you?

If they fail to answer, or even hesitate to answer, any of these basic questions, it is more than likely a fake ID.

Ask to See a Second Form of Identification

Another great way to verify the authenticity of a cardholder’s age is to ask to see a second form of identification. If they are able to provide a second form of ID, and all other steps on how to spot a fake ID have passed, then you are probably safe to give them the benefit of the doubt.

While faking a second form of identification can happen, it is fairly rare and there is no reason to question their second form of ID unless it was extremely suspicious.

Now You Know How to Properly Spot a Fake ID

You now know how to spot a fake ID, and can create a process for your staff to follow and avoid liability.

Now it’s up to you and your employees to properly implement these four steps.

To make it even easier for you, we've put together a checklist of all the steps you should take to successfully spot fake IDs. Your employees can quickly reference this checklist and know exactly what they need to do.

Bonus: How To Spot A Fake ID Checklist

Let us know where to send the checklist that covers the steps in this post you can print out and give to your employees.


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