The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Fake ID users beware: Va. licenses get makeover

University of Richmond students who have bought alcohol or tobacco with fake Virginia driver's licenses are about to have a harder time getting away with it.

For the first time in 10 years, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is redesigning its driver's licenses, a move that will cost Virginia $6.5 million per year and will make the cards almost impossible to counterfeit.

The cards were first issued March 24, in Tappahannock, Va.'s, DMV location. One by one, each of the 74 DMV offices across Virginia will begin issuing the new licenses.

Virginians now trying to obtain driver's licenses at locations issuing the new cards will be given temporary IDs until their official cards arrive in the mail a few days later. The Richmond central DMV office will close May 5 and 6, and will reopen May 7 to issue the temporary licenses.

Virginia's current licenses will be valid until they expire, said DMV spokeswoman Melanie Stokes, who graduated from Richmond in 1992. Increasing security and preventing counterfeit cards are the main reasons for the redesign, she said.

The cards, which have more than 25 state-of-the-art security features, are made from a plastic called polycarbonate, and have a full-faced, black-and-white primary photo displayed on the left-hand side of the card.

The cards also feature full-faced, black-and-white secondary photos, which are displayed in a clear window in the bottom right-hand side of the card -- a security feature practiced only in the Netherlands and the Northwest Territories in Canada, Stokes said.

Cards for people age 21 and over are horizontal and have a laser-embedded image of the Virginia State Capitol. Cards for people under 21 are vertical and depict the dogwood, Virginia's state flower, and show the dates when the license holder turns 18 and 21.

The 2-D bar code on the back of each card carries only information displayed on the front of the card, including name, customer number and date of birth.

"I won't say they can't [be counterfeited]," Stokes said, "but it will be very difficult because the text is laser embedded."

Virginia license holders will get their IDs in the mail from a centralized location in Danville, Va. Manufacturing the cards in only one location is a change from the current means, in which all IDs are being obtained and manufactured over the counter in 74 different DMV outlets across Virginia.

Having the equipment all in one place is more efficient, Stokes said, and the centralized location also limits the number of people who will know how to make the cards.

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Seventeen percent, or about 500 students at Richmond, are from Virginia, said Patty Murphy, director of institutional effectiveness. This percentage gives Richmond more students from Virginia than any other state, she said.

"We certainly think the IDs are going to be beneficial in determining who is of age and who is not," said Philip Bogenberger, public relations specialist from the Virginia Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control.

If ABC customers were suspected to be carrying a fake ID, he said, sometimes the employee would confiscate it, but most of the time they would give it back and ask that person to leave the store. Employees were then supposed to call the local police and give a description of the person they suspected to be carrying a counterfeited driver's license.

Employees at individual ABC stores were not allowed to comment about how many fake IDs they had intercepted and did not keep records of confiscated IDs, Bogenberger said.

"Our store is good about checking IDs," he said. If customers came in with licenses from other states, he said, the employee could look up the card in a booklet to see whether it was fake.

Tea Thrower, head cashier at CVS in The Village, said students had often tried to buy alcohol with cracked or expired IDs, which rendered them invalid. One person tried to buy alcohol with an ID that was broken into three pieces, she said.

"I try to be nice about it," she said, "but if you tell people no, they're not always happy."

CVS requires that customers provide two forms of identification if they are from outside Virginia. Thrower said she was suspicious when customers could not provide a second ID, and if a group of people were standing together to buy alcohol from the store, she was required to check all their IDs.

Dave Berry, CVS's assistant manager, said he recently got a card from a Richmond student that wouldn't scan.

"So I asked her for her birthday," he said, "and she couldn't give it to me."

One Westhampton College sophomore said she got a falsely manufactured ID from outside Virginia at the beginning of the summer. She has not used it to buy alcohol from stores, she said, but has used it to attend clubs and bars downtown.

"Most of my friends have them," she said.

But other students under 21 said they did not have fake IDs, and that they did not know anyone who did. Two Westhampton College freshmen said they were in the process of getting falsely manufactured IDs from outside Virginia.

Before turning 21, one Richmond College senior said a friend of his gave him an old Virginia license to get into bars and to purchase alcohol from stores. The license was even accepted in most places even after it expired, he said. He was also able to purchase alcohol without any identification at a 7-Eleven store downtown, he said.

The University of Richmond Police Department took possession of four false driver's licenses from January 2008 to January 2009, Police Capt. Beth Simonds said. Three led to arrest, she said, and one was turned in because someone tried to use it downtown. Historically, most false licenses have been from out of state, she said, but university police officers carry books with different photos of the IDs, which allow them to see whether the IDs are real.

Simonds said if students were found carrying someone else's ID on campus, the police would typically confiscate it.

Sometimes students have been referred to the dean's office, she said, and other times, such as when they are found to have falsely manufactured the license, they have been criminally charged.

"It's at the officer's discretion," she said.

Under Virginia law, people found guilty of trying to misidentify themselves can have their driver's license revoked for one month up to a year. If a person is found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, he or she could be fined up to $2,500 and could be sent to jail for up to 12 months.

Max Vest, director of student activities, said that about 30 percent of Richmond students were of legal drinking age at the beginning of each school year. That number climbed to about 38 percent by the end of the year, he estimated, as more students turned 21.

"They are breaking the law and taking the chance of getting that on their record," Vest said. Sometimes that catches up with them later, he said, when employers ask prospective employees whether they had ever been arrested.

"To government jobs and other jobs," he said, "you just struck out. A lot of people unknowingly take that risk. Some people skate by and others get caught."

In 1987, three years after the National Minimum Drinking Age Act raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, The Collegian reported that 75 percent of underage students on campus had a fake ID.

"A lot of drunk driving crashes were eliminated after we raised the number to 21," Stokes said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the 21 drinking age has reduced traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18 to 20 by 13 percent, she said, and the law saved an estimated 900 lives last year. The Centers for Disease Control study on the 21 drinking age found that decreasing the drinking age to 18 or 19 would increase traffic fatalities by 10 percent among those under 21, she said.

"I felt like it was easier to get into bars in downtown Richmond in the '90s than it is now," she said. "I think everyone has cracked down, because we have seen what the consequences are, that people are dying in drunk driving crashes. The best way to lower this risk is to prevent access to people who might not be mature enough to select a designated driver."

Retailers across Virginia have been briefed on the new licenses, Stokes said.

But security is the main reason for the change. "Not too long ago a Virginia driver's license was simply a permit to operate a vehicle," Stokes said. "Today, it is one of the keys to functioning in American society. Over the years, the driver's license has evolved to become the most widely used forms of identification in our country.

"You need one to board an airplane, to enter a federal building and to open a bank account. Because of this evolution, the importance of driver's license security became top priority for Virginia DMV officials in 2004 when the Driver's License Central Issuance Project was created. Now the project is being implemented in 2009."

The new cards also put Virginia on the right track to comply with the 2005 federal Real ID Act, which sets national standards for the issuance of state IDs. The act was put into effect in response to the attacks on Sept. 11, when it was discovered that the hijackers used inauthentic credentials to obtain valid state ID cards.

Real ID states 21 benchmarks for states, seven of which are met by Virginia's new driver's licenses. The met requirements include adhering to the set standard information provided on the card, ensuring a secure location for where the driver's licenses are made, submitting a report on how difficult the cards are to counterfeit, using technology that makes the cards difficult to counterfeit, retaining people's images even if they are not issued an ID, issuing cards that contain three different levels of security features and including the card's revision date and its inventory control number on the face of the card.

Contact staff reporter Kimberly Leonard at

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