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How to Spot a Fake ID

In the highly saturated food service industry, establishments that sell alcohol have a competitive edge. In 2019 alone, beer sales produced nearly $35 billion, and spirit sales brought in over $29 billion. Bars and breweries may be the most reliant on alcohol sales, but even full-service restaurants make up to 25% of their income from the sale of alcohol. The key to unlocking the profitable liquor sales sector is obtaining a liquor license, and the biggest threat to your liquor license is failing to spot fake IDs and serving minors.

We’ve created a comprehensive fake ID guide to teach you the following:

  1. How to Card during the COVID-19 Pandemic
  2. The Most Common Fake IDs
  3. How to Spot a Fake ID by State
  4. Good Fake Identification Methods

Fake ID Checklist infographic

Download our Fake ID Spotting Checklist PDF

How to Handle Carding during the COVID-19 Pandemic

illustrated girl with mask on

From developing alcohol delivery services to creating takeaway cocktail kits, restaurants and bars have pioneered new strategies to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maintaining proper social distancing and following CDC guidelines makes carding guests challenging but not impossible. We explain how you can maintain social distancing and identify masked guests below.

How to Check Photo IDs When Customers Are Wearing Face Masks

  • Make sure the person’s eye color matches their ID.
  • While physical features such as weight and hair color can change, it is still useful to examine the person and evaluate whether they resemble their ID photo.
  • If you are uncertain, ask the ID holder questions about their ID.
  • Ask the ID holder to pull down their face mask so you can briefly examine their entire face.
  • If you cannot confidently determine that the masked ID holder matches their card, remember that it is your right to deny the sale of alcohol in good faith. Losing that single sale will cost you far less than losing your liquor license.

How to Reduce Touch Points When Checking IDs

  • Have customers place their ID on a serving tray face up for examination. This allows your staff to inspect it without having to touch it themselves.
  • If the ID seems questionable, pick it up while wearing gloves to examine it.
  • Invest in an ID bar-code scanner or smartphone app that allows customers to perform self-scans.

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Most Common Fake IDs

illustrated hand holding an ID card

The three most common fake IDs are borrowed IDs, manufactured fake IDs, and forged IDs. Understanding each type of fake ID will help you spot them when you come across them.

1. Borrowed IDs

Borrowed fake IDs are the most common fake IDs, with approximately 95% of ID fraud cases coming from borrowed IDs. Minors gain borrowed IDs from older siblings, friends, and strangers within their personal networks.

How to Spot a Borrowed ID:

  • Check for discrepancies between the ID photo and the ID holder.
  • Test the physical description on the ID against the person in front of you.
  • Make sure the license is valid/hasn’t expired.
  • If you feel uncertain that the license genuinely belongs to the person presenting it, check to see if it is a duplicate by looking for your state's duplicate stamp. While a duplicated license doesn’t automatically mean a borrowed license, it is an additional red flag in an already suspicious situation.

2. Forged Fake IDs

A forged ID is any identification made to create a false identity. Forged IDs come in two forms: front forged IDs and front and back forged IDs. As their name suggests, front forged IDs appear legitimate on the front, but their barcodes are either unscannable or won’t show encoded information when scanned. Normally, front forged IDs supply stolen personal information and a photo of the forged ID holder. As technology advances, so do fake IDs. Over 60% of forged IDs not only appear legitimate on the front, but they also have barcodes encoded with matching information.

How to Spot Front Forged IDs

  • Basic ID scanners can identify whether an ID’s barcode is scannable and/or has information encoded. This process is called ID parsing, and it is the quickest way to identify a front forged ID.
  • In most cases, IDs should have rounded edges all the way around. If the ID presented to you has square edges or its edges feel ragged, the ID may have a false front.

How to Spot Front and Back Forged IDs

  • Run the ID through a reputable ID database to confirm that its barcode information is valid.

3. Altered Fake IDs

Usually, altered fake IDs are the genuine ID of the person presenting it with partially changed information. Underaged persons will alter the date of birth on their ID to gain access to bars and purchase alcohol. Spotting altered IDs at the door can help you run a successful bar.

How to Spot Altered IDs

  • Often, altering an ID will also alter the ID’s security features.
  • Check for changes to the ID’s special color printing, surface texture, and your state’s specific security features.

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How to Spot a Fake ID by State

illustrated ID card with the word 'Fake' stamped on it in red

Train your staff on how to spot a fake ID in your state by familiarizing them with your state’s ID security features. Here are the top things to look out for:

  1. Holograms
    IDs have holographic images that become visible when held to the light. Each state has a specific image and knowing yours will help you spot fake IDs.
  2. Cheap Laminate
    State’s apply a professional laminate on their IDs to seal their UV imagery and protect the IDs. To see if the ID being presented to you has professional-grade laminate, gently bend the ID card into a “U” shape. When bent, inexpensive, nonprofessional laminate will bubble.
  3. Laser Perforation
    IDs have tiny laser perforated holes forming pictures that aren’t visible to the naked eye until held to direct light. The laser perforated images are different for each state.
  4. Laser Embossing
    Many states emboss their IDs with a laser to raise the plastic on the front of their IDs. The laser embossing doesn’t alter the back of the ID, but it allows you to feel the ID and see if the embossing is present/matches standards.
  5. UV Imagery
    While IDs’ UV imagery varies by the state, most states include a second, lighter image that only appears when exposed to UV light.

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Good Fake Identification Methods

Serving minors alcoholic beverages is a criminal offense and should be avoided at all costs. Beyond the specific ways to identify the three most common types of fake IDs and knowing your state's ID security features, there are universal fake identification methods your business can apply.

Your staff should know how to question ID holders, and your business can benefit from fake ID detection technology. We provide a list of questions that draw out an ID holder and help you determine if their ID is fake, and we also show you what features to look out for when choosing fake ID detection technology.

Fake ID Questions

If you suspect that an ID is fake, ask the ID holder questions. If they don't know the answers or get nervous, you probably have a fake ID on your hands. Here are some questions you can ask the cardholder to help determine if their ID is fake.

  • Ask them what the middle initial on their ID represents.
  • Ask them to confirm the personal information their ID card contains.
  • Ask them to write their signature and then compare it to the signature on their ID.
  • Bonus: Provide the wrong middle initial or mispronounce their first name and see if they correct you.

While you question the cardholder, look for these red flags:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Hesitancy answering
  • Nervous body language
  • Defensive responses
  • Eyes rove upwards (a sign that someone is struggling to recall information)

Invest in a Fake ID Detector

As fake IDs become more advanced and harder to spot, investing in fake ID detection technology is a proactive strategy for your bar or restaurant. There are fake ID detector apps and fake ID detector machines to help your staff spot ID fraud.

As you browse fake ID detector options, these are the top features you want your fake ID detector to have:

  • Tests ID barcodes against a trusted ID database
  • Analyzes pixel accuracy
  • Uses both white and infrared light to test the ID’s security features
  • References a broad ID library with identification cards across state lines since many fake ID holders will intentionally use cards from outside your area that your staff is less familiar with
  • Has a magnetic stripe reader that verifies the ID’s information against government departmental databases

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Think You Know How to Spot a Fake ID?

illustrated hand holding a paper that says Time For Review

Now that you've learned all about fake IDs and how to spot them, it's time to test your knowledge. Answer the questions below to see if you're ready to spot fake IDs or if you need to review this resource some more.


While it's easy to hurry through the ID checking process, particularly during busy nights such as Blackout Wednesday, failing to spot a fake ID can cost you your liquor license. Too many businesses face stiff penalties because they failed to train their staff on how to spot a fake ID. Use this blog as a guide for safeguarding your business against the blows of heavy fines, or worse, a lost liquor license.

Posted in: Management & Operation | Bars & Breweries | By Corrinn McCauley
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