Spotting the Fake

The window is the first thing to catch customer’s attention when they walk by Blanchard’s Liquors in Allston. The glass is covered in confiscated fake IDs, and the number is growing.

“It says we know what we’re doing with fake IDs, and they’re going to get taken,” Chris McDaniel, store manager for 16 years, said.

But on Saturday, Sept. 6, McDaniel said he confiscated eight more IDs from students. That prompts some questions: Just how easy is it to spot a fake? Is it worth the risk? What kinds of IDs are out there and what are the real consequences?

Massachusetts is rumored to be one of the strictest states for enforcing identification for alcohol. Boston may be a college town, but in order to purchase alcohol and get access to bars, clubs and even some restaurants, an appropriate of-age ID is required. Is a fake ID worth the risk until that 21st birthday?

Unlike the law in other states, false identification in Massachusetts is a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Police Sgt. Jack St. Hilaire has worked as an officer in Florida and New Hampshire where false identification was a misdemeanor. In his 23 years of police work in three states, he cannot ballpark the amount of IDs he has confiscated, but he has arrested and charged many people for the crime.

“The Commonwealth takes a hard stance for the purchasing of alcohol,” St. Hilaire said. “Something to keep in the back of your mind is you can’t measure who is more stringent because the penalty doesn’t really matter whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony – it’s how you enforce it.”

Sting operations take place in liquor stores where police officers in plain clothes will act as the invisible “cop in shop” to enforce liquor laws, Hilaire said. The investigative division of the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has conducted stings in liquor stores since 1994, according to their website. Though the sting operations have received legal challenges from establishments with liquor licenses, they have still remained in operation with Massachusetts police.

“The logic is deterrence and to discourage students,” Hilaire said. “The mentality is they are more likely to say ‘Jeez this is a felony.””

Joe Malkiewich, a School of Management senior, admitted that although he has been offered fake IDs from friends on several occasions, he has never accepted because of the possible legal consequences.

“The fear of the unknown consequences outweighed the pressure to hang out with friends at clubs or bars for a drink,” Malkiewich said.

Boston University Policy Department enforces a zero-tolerance policy that arrests or summons to court any student caught with a fake ID. Whether a person is called into custody is based on the severity of the circumstances.

“There is a shock factor if there is a bail, and the person is locked up rather than just taken to court,” St. Hilaire said.

If the student attends BU, there is the possibility of consequences from court as well as the university.

My personal feeling is that it hits you hard in the wallet,” St. Hilaire said. “I call it double jeopardy – the court can fine you as well as BU.”

Mike Quintavella, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he has friends who have shelled out anywhere between $20 to $100 for fake IDs only to see them eventually taken away. For more than two months, he has worked as a bouncer at The Kells in Allston, a bar where many students have tested fakes.

When he worked the door over the summer, Quintavella said he’d see one fake per night, but now that school has started there are many more.

“I’ve seen $20 [IDs] that say something stupid. Ones like ‘real ID’ or something along those lines,” Quintavella said.

When a student tries to get in the door, Quintavella might ask, “What’s your sign?” And it is not just to make small talk; it’s to test their zodiac sign.

The first thing he looks for in an ID is specific similarities between the photo and the person – such as eye color, hair color, haircut, hairline and if there are any defining beauty marks.

Every bar has a copy of what each state ID should look like, he said. During nights and weekends, there can be as many as three people double-checking IDs at the door.

Many places in Boston are becoming 21-plus, and having a fake ID can grant access to that social life, Malkiewich said. He said he could understand the lure of a fake ID because those who are 21 and older “enjoy the nightlife way more.” Being underage has forced him to become more diverse and engage in other activities, like playing Xbox. With his 21st birthday coming up in a few weeks, Malkiewich said he was looking forward to not having to worry about the legality of drinking.

“One thing about being in a college town and turning 21 is that everything seems brand new,” he said.

Caroline Wilochoski, an investigator at the ABCC, patrols the Allston-Brighton area undercover to catch possible law-breakers. Between Sept. 5 and Sept. 7 she caught students in the middle of a hand-off outside a liquor store.

“This is the time where we see the trends and what will establish the trend for the year,” Wilichoski said. “We just confiscated a bunch, and there appears to be an ID of choice, and it’s the California driver’s license.”

Wilochoski said the increasing trend toward high-end IDs has made her job that much harder.

“When I walk in the door, I’m scanning the whole establishment,” Wilochoski said. “Night clubs and the liquor stores is where students get busted the most.”

Angela Lamb, a petite 25 year-old bartender who has worked at Sunset Cantina for two years, said she always checks IDs. “It’s the first thing out of my mouth: Hey how are you? Can I see your ID?” she said. As she climbed on the counter to grab a bottle of Patron and greeted regulars on a slow Thursday afternoon, she explained her opinion for why Boston is tougher on fake IDs than any other city.

Lamb admits that when she first started bartending, she was more lax about identification enforcement. But after six years, she has learned the ropes from experience. Once or twice every day she will bust someone with a fake ID. A trick she has learned from experience is that a New York license can be bent all the way and will not crease.

Matt Janoska, a senior in CAS, said he had at least three or four friends freshman year who he encouraged to buy alcohol with fake IDs. The consequences did not bother him. Instead, he thought using the fake was comedic. He agreed that fake IDs are common and did not treat them as “a big deal.”

“I thought it was funny, so I was really suave about it,” Janoska said about going into the liquor store with his friend who had a fake ID. “I didn’t really take it seriously, because it wasn’t my ID, so I wouldn’t get in trouble. We were more worried about whether to get vodka or rum.”

When one of his friend’s IDs was confiscated, Janoska said he was not embarrassed but worried if he had enough alcohol for everyone back at the apartment. Jonoska said in his home state of New York he has seen more leniency with ID checking.

“In New York City it is less of a problem, because they are less strict about scanning it,” he said. “The enforcement is more relaxed than in Massachusetts.”

Malkiewitch said that fake IDs are not hard to find. He has been offered them by friends of friends and attributes the spread of IDs to social networking in college. He said that his home state of New Jersey used to be more lax about ID checking before adopting similar tactics to Massachusetts.

“Six years ago, the Jersey ID used to be just a laminated piece of paper,” he said. “Now it’s getting tougher and tougher to recreate.”

McDaniel said that since there has been a trend of students investing in increasingly realistic and complicated fake IDs, he has had to invest in better, more expensive testing equipment.

“The thing people don’t realize is that they put my job on the line,” McDaniel said. “The kids get a slap on the wrist when it’s going to cause someone else to get terminated. And with the IDs getting so good, the chances of that are high.”

He said if the liquor store were to get caught just one time selling alcohol to a minor, the store would be shut down for three days.The cashier who sold the alcohol would have to appear before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and would most likely lose his or her job.

If an undercover agent busts a liquor store selling to minors, the violation is brought before the ABCC for a court hearing. The commission makes a decision based on the history of the licensee, the age of the purchaser and the circumstance. The possible consequences are a warning or a suspension for a minimum of three days. There is also the option of in place of a suspension: a fine of 50 percent of gross liquor sales for each day issued in the suspension.

“You have to understand, this place is crawling with colleges,” McDaniel said. “If someone underage got in a drunk driving accident, the uproar will be about the store that sold it to them and not about the kid.”

Although the wall of fake IDs at Blanchard’s is supposed to act as a deterrent to minors, fake IDs are still rampant in the store, according to McDaniel. He has seen customers come in laughing at the wall of fakes if they know someone on there, or if they are from out-of-state because they think it shows how strict the policy is in Massachusetts.

“People tend to ignore the legal signs saying you must be 21 and look straight at the IDs,” McDaniel said.

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