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College Students with Fake IDs: Could a Common Rite of Passage Land You in the Slammer?

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The legal drinking age in the United States might be 21, but let’s be realistic—middle schoolers have been known to experiment with Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet, high school students commonly drink at parties, and by the time teenagers are in college, forget it.

Drinking on campus happens whether students are of legal age to buy their own booze or not.

Fake IDs are fairly common among the college crowd, whether they are “borrowed” from a 21-year-old buddy with similar looks, homemade, or ordered off the internet. Fake IDs might seem harmless enough in students’ eyes, but the repercussions can actually be much worse than the anticipated slap on the wrist.

College Students Using Fake IDs Across the Country

In February 2011 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that two dozen area college students were accused of purchasing counterfeit driver’s licenses from Hong Kong.

In April 2011 Captain Fred Harris of the Central Michigan University Police told Central Michigan Life that many students try to pass off “novelty IDs” as the real deal. Novelty IDs, aka fake IDs, typically replicate an out-of-state driver’s license and feature the picture and real identity of the person using it, but often lack important markings or holograms. Some young adults attempt to use a real ID of a friend that’s old enough to purchase alcohol. “Sometimes, we’ll get in-state IDs that they’ll get from a friend. They’ll think they look alike, but they usually don’t.”

Most college students order fake IDs on the internet. “You will get the best fake ID that passes everywhere with the quickest service and will be 100% satisfied!” claims one website. “We stand alone when it comes to meeting your needs for fake IDs by including replica holograms custom to each state,” advertises another.

College Students Go into Business Making Fake Driver’s Licenses

Some students forgo the process of ordering online and set up shop to help out their friends. The Baltimore Sun reported on May 5, 2011 that a University of Maryland student was recently accused of making and selling fake driver’s licenses in his College Park, Maryland dorm room.

Theodore Stephen Michaels, a straight-A scholarship recipient who is now twenty years old, has been charged with creating phony Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania driver’s licenses from October to November 2009. He reportedly sold the fake IDs for under $200 each and even offered freebies to people who brought him at least five referrals.

Fake IDs with Real Consequences

His attorney, Steven D. Kupferberg, was surprised by the indictment. “I don’t see how this particular case is any more or less significant than what you find in College Park every day or on any college campus, for that matter,” Kupferberg told the newspaper.

Steven H. Levin, a former assistant U.S. attorney, told The Sun “I can remember when under-aged college kids might walk up to a bouncer and hand over a fake ID, and the biggest fear was that the bouncer would take his ID away and he’d go home early.”

Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered?

Some may argue that students should be allowed to buy alcohol before their 21st birthday. After all, they can drive, vote and even join the military. The Amethyst Initiative, an organization comprised of U.S. college and university presidents and chancellors, launched a movement calling for reconsideration of drinking age laws in July 2008.

Leaders in higher education signed their names to a public statement that the problem of irresponsible drinking by young people continues despite the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and there is a culture of dangerous binge drinking on many campuses.

The Amethyst Initiative’s statement points out that:

  • A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”—often conducted off-campus—has developed.
  • Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.
  • Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.
  • By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.

It might appear to be a sound argument in the eyes of the 18-20 crowd, but opponents feel otherwise. In September 2008, Inside Higher Ed’s Jonathan Gibralter pointed out that many studies suggest that a reduced drinking age would lead to even more alcohol-related deaths and injuries and that young people who die from alcohol-related circumstances do not die from “buying a beer,” but from drinking so excessively that they pass out and choke on their own vomit or lapse into comas.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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