By Hunter Paniagua and Haylie Navarre | LSU Students
It costs as little as $20 to change your age.
Take a Louisiana driver's license to someone willing to do the work and for the price of two Friday-night movie tickets the person becomes as old as they please. That's what Frank did.
Fake are easy to obtain for college students and increasingly difficult for age-enforcers to spot.
Frank, 19 (not his real name), told the Department of Motor Vehicles he lost his license and requested a replacement, which he took to a friend before his 19th birthday last November. The friend altered his birth year, 1992, to make it look like 1990.
Just like that, Frank became 21.
Frank is one of many prospective underage drinkers who have found ways to circumvent the system and purchase alcohol illegally. As more methods of creating fake IDs become popular, the abilities of Louisiana authorities and establishments to spot the counterfeits are slower to adapt.
Frank said he and five of his friends have altered IDs and never have had trouble purchasing alcohol from gas stations or in entering bars.
Curtis Cutrell, a doorman at Fred's, a popular bar near LSU's campus, counters that doctored licenses are easy to spot.
Cutrell said the number of fake IDs he sees varies. He might spot six in one night or go two weeks without seeing one. If a doorman finds a fake, he is required to confiscate it and prevent the person from entering the bar.
The Louisiana Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) does not keep records on the use of fake IDs, but does expect drinking establishments to confiscate fakes. Cutrell said doormen are held responsible by the bar if underage patrons illegally purchase alcohol.
"If the bar were found to be selling alcohol to minors," Cutrell said, "it could temporarily lose its liquor license."
Aside from the naked eye, doormen are helpless in identifying fakes. Some bars and gas stations do use E-Seek scanners to read the bar code on the back of the card to verify the patron's age, but Frank said that not a big impediment.
"If there's a gas station that would scan," Frank said, "there's another one down the street that doesn't scan."
But counterfeiters have provided a way to get around scanners without avoiding the establishment all together. A website based in the Philippines, called "ID Chief," provides LSU students and others with fake IDs by using a stolen or counterfeited DMV machine. The site claims they produce novelty IDs not intended for use, avoiding legal ramifications.
The site sells IDs for $200 each and sends the recipient two copies. Order 10 or more, and one receives the group rate of $75 each. Customers submit their information and a headshot photo, "Applicants" will receive the fake ID within a few weeks.
"They said they will send it as many times as they needed to get it through customs," said George, a 20-year-old LSU student, who ordered fakes from idchief.ph. George, also a pseudonym, received his IDs in a jewelry box, but has heard stories of people getting them inside calculators or fabric samples.
He said the fakes have been scanned and pass without issue. ""It's easier to get away with drinking in Louisiana."
Though it is not illegal to purchase or own a fake ID, under Louisiana law it is unlawful for a minor to present evidence of fraudulent age for the purpose of purchasing alcohol from a licensed premise. Violation of the law carries a fine up to $200 and 30 hours of community service or a 90-day suspension of the violator's driver's license upon conviction.
Jeff Faulk, an agent with the ATC with seven years of service, said officers typically gauge the totality of the situation, how the person intended to use the fake, before determining how to proceed.
Faulk said he mostly finds minors using fakes to purchase alcohol, but some people use them to shield their identity from an arresting officer.
"If we find out who they really are, and we find out they are trying to avoid getting caught because they have a warrant [for their arrest], then they're using that for a totally different set of circumstances," Faulk said. "They're trying to avoid someone knowing who they really are."
Though that offense can be a felony, Faulk said the district attorney determines how to prosecute the crime. The most serious offense is producing fraudulent IDs, said Faulk.
"That's where the real felonies come in. It's like the difference between possessing a drug and selling it."
Though most minors don't worry about the ramifications of using a fake ID, Faulk warned that they can turn a misdemeanor into something significantly worse
"[Minors] look at them innocently," Faulk said. "They don't think it's too big of a deal. But there are certain scenarios where they act irresponsibly and then it can change their life in a negative way without them even realizing it."