Fake IDs float around the College barely on the DL; everyone seems to know at least one underage person who has one and who is willing to use it quite generously. But what’s the real deal with fake IDs â€“ what are the legal consequences for possessing one, and how do local bars and liquor stores feel about this topic?
To start, all types of fake IDs are illegal in Massachusetts, period. “Anytime we prove there’s a fake ID involved, we send the kid to court. It’s a zero tolerance policy,” said Officer Mike Ziemba of the Williamstown Police Department. “Using someone else’s ID is generally treated the same as using an altered ID. At court, we determine consequences on a case-to-case basis. You could be forced to pay a fine or take alcohol-related classes â€“ a variety of things.”
Edward Smith, the owner of the Red Herring, also stresses the severity of using fake IDs. “Fake IDs are BAD,” he said. “You’re not just putting yourself in jeopardy by using one; you’re putting me in jeopardy too. This is my livelihood. If the police come in and I’m serving underage drinkers, they take my license away to sell. I’m out of business. It’s not like a license to sell gas or something. A license to sell alcohol is not immediately a privilege or a right â€“ you gotta earn that right. You’re a representative of the law.”
But how can one tell that an ID is not authentic? A nice conversation with Josh Spencer, the bouncer at the Red Herring who sported buzzed hair, tattooed arms, black attire and a shiny metallic belt with “F–ck” written across it, enlightened me on this point. Spencer is a self-described expert on IDs â€“ “I have an international book of IDs which I’ve studied religiously; I’m a man of study,” he said. Spencer went on to describe how he can always tell when an ID is fake. “Most of the time with fakes the manufacturer of the fake ID has the manufacturer signature on it, which is usually a key or an eagle’s head,” he said. “And they use words like genuine and authentic, which no state or country uses.”
John Baker, the owner of the Spirit Shop on Spring Street, checks for similar such giveaways. “A lot of people try to pass off expired licenses that are their friends’ or whatever,” he said. “People also act funny when they’re passing off a fake ID.”
The next logical question: What do the bars and stores do when they come across a fake? When I asked Spencer, he answered immediately and levelly, “Turn them into the police. I’ve got the cop’s number on speed dial.” Smith fleshed out Spencer’s response. “We take the ID first,” Smith said. “But by law we have to give it back to them because it’s their property. We call the cops, and we say, ‘If you want it, we’ll let the cop give it back to you.’” Baker seemed a little more lenient. “We do confiscate the fake IDs,” he said. “It all depends. Occasionally we do turn them into the Williamstown PD and let them handle it.”
Ziemba reported that the Williamstown Police Department has handled a relatively high number of fake ID cases. “In the past 10 months we’ve had 16 incidents of possible fake IDs,” he said. “Not all of them were fake; some were verified as actual IDs. There are also incidents in there that involve underage possession of alcohol. Sometimes if there’s someone who’s underage and they’re in possession of alcohol, the false ID is located later on.” The fact that Spencer sees fake IDs “three, four times a week, if not more” supports this high number of court cases and shows that Williams students frequently â€“ and many times unsuccessfully â€“ attempt to use fake IDs.
But while students frequently use their fake IDs off campus, dupes are not as prevalent on campus. Zach Padovani ’11, president of the Dodd neighborhood, organizes parties that officially serve alcohol on campus. “We really haven’t had an issue with fake IDs,” Padovani said. “Either the fake IDs are good enough where our checkers don’t notice, or people simply don’t try to use them.”
One anonymous male sophomore said, “I only use my fake ID off campus. Then I buy lots beer or shots for myself and my friends and sneak it back up to my dorm room.” But fake IDs are not for the faint of heart, as this student learned. “Once I got majorly busted when I was buying, and I ran away,” he said.
An anonymous female first-year has a more foolproof type of ID: Her of-age friend, who looks quite similar to her, gave her a replacement copy of her driver’s license. This first-year, however, thinks that the way in which she uses her ID is not representative of the Williams population at large. “The culture in which I’ve grown up â€“ casual drinking is a huge part of that,” she said. “You’ll find me in my dorm room drinking some fine wine. And I’m not going to let some arbitrary laws keep me from my wine. Being a resourceful young woman, a woman of courage and confidence who got into Williams College, I find creative means to procure my wine.”
But like most people who possess fake IDs, this cultured McLovin does have a great tale of getting busted. “One weekend I left campus and went to a major U.S. city with my friends,” she said. “I walk up to the bouncer at this bar, hand him my ID, he looks at it and says, ‘This isn’t you.’ And he starts laughing. I was like, ‘What do you want? Do you want backup, I have backup.’ He goes, ‘No, no, I dated this girl. You’re using her ID.’ So then the bouncer and I end up calling her and just telling her, ‘You’ll never guess who I’m with right now!’ Needless to say, he could not let me into the bar.”
Most people using fakes, however, do not become buddy-buddy with the bouncer; as one can imagine, the typical response to being caught is more like that of the anonymous sophomore boy mentioned earlier. On this topic, Spencer said: “Reactions are pretty general. They find out they’re busted; we call the cops. Sometimes they try to pull something like, ‘I’ll call the cop myself.’ Or they run.”
Josh Carter, a longtime night-shift worker at the Spirit Shop, said that people often become pretty aggressive. “They often swear it’s not a fake until you call the cops and then they turn around, back off and run home,” he said. In particular, Carter recalled one especially comical experience: “When I told this one kid his ID was fake his mouth dropped, eyes hit the floor, and he was like, ‘Uhhh, okay.’ And then he just turned around and walked out. He didn’t even try to argue or anything,” he said.
Some students claim fake IDs are useful for purchasing alcohol off-campus, but those who are considering obtaining fakes should be wary: Not everybody is as smooth as McLovin. Williamstown alcohol retailers are experts at detecting fakes, and the risks of getting caught are high. Be forewarned â€“ unless you quickly befriend the bouncer or run away, the Williamstown PD will take you to court.