The most common form of a fake ID is actually a real identification card that's being used by a different person. This kind of use is called an "in-possession" ID and makes up about 75 percent of all fake ID cases in Boulder.
The second most common type of fake IDs are manufactured identification cards. These cards are printed at home using photo printers, or purchased online, and often include special holographic paper to simulate official seals.
Use of a fake ID card in Boulder is a municipal offense that carries fines of up to $500 and/or 90 days in jail. State law allows for fines of up to $1,000 and a maximum of one year in jail. Use of a fake government-issued ID can also be charged as a felony. Beginning this week, Boulder County courts lowered the bond for people jailed on suspicion of the felony fake ID charge, from $1,500 to $200.
1,461 -- Number of fake IDs turned in to Boulder police in 2009
1,598 -- Number of fake IDs turned in to Boulder police in 2010
7 -- Number of tickets issued for using or possessing a fake ID in 2009
150 -- Number of tickets issued for using or possessing a fake ID in 2010
75 -- Number of businesses checked in Boulder police sting operations in 2009
83 percent -- Compliance rate among checked businesses in 2009
397 -- Number of businesses checked in Boulder police sting operations in 2010
87 percent -- Compliance rate among checked businesses in 2010
Boulder police ticketed a lot more people for trying to use fake IDs in 2010, and there was a spike in the number of ID cards confiscated by bars, restaurants and liquor stores.
A total of 1,598 fake IDs were turned in to Boulder police last year, representing a 9 percent increase over 2009.
And while more people got caught trying to pass a fake ID, police also held many more users responsible than in previous years by issuing 150 tickets. That's up from just seven tickets issued in 2009, and it's the most tickets issued in at least the last five years.
Carlene Hofmann, the alcohol enforcement officer for Boulder police, said the uptick in enforcement is due largely to a federal grant the department received last year.
Boulder police received about $45,000 from the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws grant, which pays for enforcement and education campaigns. Hofmann said she's using the money to spend more time going after users of fake IDs.
"A lot of times, they think they're just doing this to get into a bar or to buy a sixpack ... not realizing what that means," she said. "Having possession of a forged government document is a felony."
But Hofmann isn't taking a heavy-handed approach.
Instead, she's giving college students the chance to learn from their mistake rather than face a potential felony conviction.
After police identify a person suspected of using a fake ID at a bar or liquor store, first-time offenders are given the chance to contact Hofmann within a week of being caught. If they do, they're eligible to participate in a restorative justice program offered by the City Attorney's Office. They're also charged under the least severe charge -- a municipal offense that carries fines of up to $500 and/or 90 days in jail.
But if first-time offenders don't own up to their mistake, Hofmann said, they're either issued a misdemeanor state ticket or a felony summons.
Students who choose the restorative program -- and almost all of them do -- must go through alcohol classes, discuss their actions with a group of stakeholders and work to educate others about the harm of using fake IDs. In return, the city attorney drops the charges.
"In the beginning, students were very hesitant to contact me," Hofmann said.
But now that word has gotten out about potentially serious charges going away through successful completion of the restorative justice program, Hofmann said students are starting to call her even before she begins her investigation.
Boulder code allows all establishments with a liquor license to confiscate suspected fake IDs, although it doesn't require them to do so. Hofmann said most bars and liquor stores in Boulder do a good job of recognizing and reporting fake IDs.
The art of spotting fake IDs
Perhaps no one in Boulder has a nose for spotting a fake ID like Russ Wright.
The Liquor Mart doorman has collected more than 700 fake IDs in his seven years with the company. He's become so adept at the subtle art that he's even developed a course about detecting fraudulent driver's licenses, passports and other forms of identification.
"There's a lot of little nuances," Wright said Friday as he checked an ID from a man who said he was visiting from Iowa.
That customer passed Wright's test, which goes so far as to look at the thickness of font.
Wright, a trained graphic designer, claims he can spot a fake ID by the kind of typeface used. That's the way he caught what he called "one of the best" fakes he's ever seen, a Colorado driver's license that was flawless except for the bold font in the name and the computerized signature.
"It's becoming harder and harder to make fake IDs," Wright said, noting that many states have moved to include security features that are increasingly difficult to copy.
While some people spend upwards of $200 for what Wright deems to be a quality fake, he said he's still surprised by the brazenness -- or stupidity -- of some people.
Wright pulled out a copy of an ID he confiscated from a woman years ago labeled as a "Foreign Student ID."
There's no such thing, Wright said, and the woman's suspected fake French accent didn't help her case, either.
John Balliet, a Boulder consultant who works with The Responsible Hospitality Group and trains businesses to recognize fake IDs, said most fraudulent cards can be spotted using common sense.
"What I teach them is to look for and confirm the important pieces of information," he said. "Does it say they're 6-feet, 2-inches and they're actually 5-feet, 8-inches?"
But Balliet said the most common form of fake IDs are the most difficult to spot, because they're real cards being used by someone else. He said about 75 percent of people who use a fake ID are borrowing a real driver's license from a friend or sibling.
Adding to the challenge of identifying fakes is the sheer variety of cards that people can legally use to prove their age. Balliet said there are more than 260 forms of legitimate state and federal ID. And, last year, Colorado added foreign driver's licenses to the approved list of acceptable identification.
"I don't know what a Namibian driver's license looks like," Balliet said. "Nobody can know what they all look like."
'We'll get three or four in one night'
Steve Riely, general manager of the Absinthe House at 1109 Walnut St., said his head of security has been trained to authenticate foreign IDs to help stay ahead of fraudsters.
"We're constantly attentive," he said. "Wednesday through Saturday night, we check IDs at the door and we go through training with all of our door staff as well as all of our bar staff."
Riely said the bar, which only allows people 21 and older inside after 10 p.m., typically sees a handful of fake IDs each week.
"We'll go two or three nights in a row without seeing any, but then we'll get three or four in one night," he said.
When his staff members suspect a fake ID, Riely said they are trained to confiscate the card and turn it over to Boulder police.
The Walrus Saloon, at 1911 11th St., even warns patrons about fake IDs on its voicemail message.
In addition to listing drink specials, the message warns listeners that, "If you are under 21 and have a fake ID... bring it on down so we can take it from you. We'll give you nothing for it but a smile, and we hope to see you when you're 21."
Contact Camera staff writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328, or firstname.lastname@example.org.