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Philly bouncers bust 20 under-agers a night: How to spot, and fight, fake IDs

Young people and college kids aged 15 to 24 make up more than a quarter million people in Philly, and every Friday and Saturday when they on the way to the club with bae, somewhere around a third of the underage ones are carrying around fake IDs.

Believe it or not, moves made over the last five years by state officials have made it easier to spot fake Pennsylvania driver’s licenses — that were probably made in some backroom printing lab near a college campus. AKA Kinko’s.

And the warriors on the front lines? The hardworking men and women serving as bartenders and bouncers — some of whom told Billy Penn that, on average, on any given night, bust more than 20 people trying to get their drink on while underage.

“It gets old,” said Mike Ryan, a bartender and bouncer at Smokey Joe’s in University City. “You get some people and they say, ‘oh, you got me,’ and they walk away. And then you get other people who give you a real hard time about it.”

Some people are just downright cocky. Ryan said last spring, he was dealing with a drunk guy (probably a student; the bar is known as the “Pennstitution”) who was trying to get in with what was clearly a fake ID from the perspective of the bouncers.

But the guy was so confident in his fake that he called 911 and asked the police the come inspect it. They did, immediately told the overly-audacious patron it wasn’t real, and said, “Now we’re going to arrest you.”

Others, according to Ryan, apparently feel entitled to enter the bar even if they’re carrying a Connecticut license and can’t tell the bouncer what the capital of Connecticut is (it’s Hartford). They often say to him, “Um, do you know who my dad is?”

Bartenders in this city — especially near colleges that have a high number of underage drinkers — know that underage patrons do get in from time-to-time, risking fines and liquor licenses violations for owners. But there are a number of tell-tale, nearly fool-proof ways that bouncers can figure out if that fake ID you’re carrying was made in your friend’s dorm.

Billy Penn talked with four city bartenders and bouncers who gave us the low-down on what they look for when checking ID’s at the door. Here are a few of the dead giveaways:

1. Holograms. Ever try tilting your (real) ID? There are several indicators that come up when the ID is shown in different lights or when a flashlight is shown beneath it that were added by state officials to driver’s licenses in 2011 to curb fakes.

In addition to that, there’s a small area on a real ID that’s raised up right underneath where the height is listed where you can actually feel the shape of a keystone. George Leflar, a manager at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, said his doormen have been doing this for so long that they know exactly what this feels like and will kick someone out if it’s not there.

2. Out of state? Having an ID from a different state isn’t as hard for bartenders to figure out as you may think. Most bars have guidebooks that show them the right look, feel and coloring of every driver’s license in the country.

A bartender at Cavanaugh’s West told us she will almost always ask for a second form of ID if someone tries to get in with an out-of-state license. And Ryan said some states he just won’t accept without a second form of ID. For awhile, the popular fake was Connecticut, he said. Nowadays, it’s Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island.

If you’re carrying around a real ID from one of these places, please make sure you know the capital. Ryan said he once asked a woman what the capital was of the state indicated on the ID she was carrying. Her answer? Wyoming. (ICYMI, Wyoming is not a capital.)

3. The signature. Ryan said one of the first things he looks at when he checks an ID is the signature. No one’s signature looks good on their real driver’s license, but he can tell if you stupidly selected Zapfino font on Word and tried to make it look like a real signature.

4. Having another ID is usually a giveaway, too. Ryan said most rational people would be shocked at the number of people he has caught with fake ID’s because the person reached into their wallet, pulled out their real ID by accident, realized what they’d done and handed over the fake one. Nice try, sucker.

5. But the most tell-tale dead giveaway for bartenders in this city? Looking nervous.

“People give themselves away,” said a bartender at Cavanaugh’s West who didn’t wish to provide her name. “If you’re looking suspicious or making weird eye contact, I’m going to ask your address. And if you’re nervous still, we can tell.”

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board also provides guidelines for liquor licensees to detect underagers that are attempting to enter bars, mostly to help them avoid what could be thousands of dollars in fines if anyone slips through.

The state’s Responsible Alcohol Management Program tells bartenders to use the FEAR method (lol):

Feel for glue lines, bumpy surfaces or pin holes.

Examine for holograms or lettering on the reverse side.

Ask about basic information on the card.

Return it and let the person in if you’re satisfied they meet the requirements.

But what the PLCB doesn’t offer clear guidance on is what bars and restaurants are supposed to do with the ID card once they catch someone carrying around a fake one. Sure, it’d be nice if bars collected up the fake IDs and turned them into local police. But it’s not that simple.

PLCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement has stated previously that forms of identification, even fake ones, are technically the property of the person who owns it and can’t be confiscated.

However, the bar can say that they aren’t sure about the ID and call the police. Usually the person leaves without the ID, and the PLCB staff encourage bars to then turn the abandoned ID’s over to law enforcement.

The bartenders and establishment workers we talked to all said they typically just hand the ID back to the person and send them on their way.

McGillin’s manager Leflar said he has no reason to keep a drawer full of dozens of fake IDs. Ryan, from the bar near Penn, said the philosophy at Smokey Joe’s is to treat underagers well. After all, they’re future customers.

“So once they turn 21,” Ryan said, “maybe they’ll remember us as that bar that was nice that time we caught them underage.”

This story was updated to include a comment from PLCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.

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