The smell of peanuts and beer wafted through the cool night breeze. The promotional signs that obscure the view through windows of downtown bars came to life with a neon glow. Bowling Green was awake for the night, and it was thirsty.
The minimum drinking age has been 21 since the U.S. Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, but this hasn’t stopped young college students from finding ways to engage in this illicit activity. One way is through the use of fake IDs.
A WKU senior from Richmond, whose identity will remain anonymous due to the legal sensitivity of this article, spoke on the inevitability of WKU’s drinking culture.
“It’s already there. It’s not going to go away. Unless you ban alcohol,” the senior from Richmond said.
Tech consultant Kyle Talavera attended WKU 10 years ago. While on the Hill, Talavera said he created a fake ID via Photoshop that he then glued onto the back of an old, delaminated ID.
Talavera said he only made the fake ID for himself.
Nowadays, students are ordering their fake IDs online in bulk, the senior from Richmond said.
He was able to get two scannable IDs for $70. He said that he and his friends bought their fake IDs together.
“If you get enough people, they’ll be cheaper,” he said.
He said that the process for getting a fake ID allowed him to choose his new assumed identity.
“You could put any information you want on it,” the senior from Richmond said. “I kept my own name. I kept my actual home address from back home. The only thing that has to be, like, real is the state that you choose and zip code from that state.”
The senior from Richmond said that this information is important so that the fake ID “scans right.” Having a scannable fake ID determines which bars you can get into, he said.
When Talavera was going to school, he said that fake IDs were mainly being used to buy beer, and that, for the most part, he and his friends weren’t using their fake IDs to get into bars.
Talavera said he would use his fake ID primarily at small gas stations. Once he got to know the people who ran the gas stations, he said he didn’t really have to use his ID anymore.
Talavera said he and his friends weren’t able to get into any bar while underage until they stole a hand stamp from Hilligan’s Sports Bar & Grill, which was the bar’s “of age” symbol.
When Talavera and his friends turned 21, they passed down the prized possession to their younger friends.
The senior from Richmond said times on the Hill have changed, and while students are still going to buy beer at gas stations, the technology behind fake IDs has made it easier to get into bars.
“I knew of a couple of bars that were, like, letting in underage kids, and maybe they weren’t so strict on fake IDs,” he said. “I knew of a couple places with scanners that just whenever you walked in, they scan the back of your ID and, just as long as it said 21, they let you in.”
When the senior from Richmond was using his fake IDs, he said he would intentionally go to bars with scanners. He said he avoided going to bars where bouncers hand-examined IDs.
“They could tell right away. None of these fakes are good nowadays. If they scan them on the back, and they have the scanner, you just walk in, and the bouncer doesn’t know any better,” the senior from Richmond said. “It can be blank on the other side of the ID for all it matters. As long as it scans, you get in.”
The senior from Richmond said the bars with scanners are the “little tikes bars” because they are filled with 19 and 20 year olds who “don’t make the best decisions when drinking.”
Mack Slattery, a bartender and bouncer at Donna’s, a local bar that hand examines IDs, said that spotting a fake ID is easy.
“There’s always a tell,” Slattery said. “The lamination, the quality of the picture — a big test for us and a lot of other places is like a stress test when you bend them because IDs are either flexible, or when you bend them, they’re kind of tough.”
He said the flex test led to people getting caught with fake IDs and having them “snapped.”
Slattery also said that when a bartender or bouncer becomes certified with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, they are put through a course on spotting fake IDs that teaches bouncers and bartenders what to look for when checking IDs, things like lamination, quality of picture and what Slattery calls a “stress test,” which tests the flexibility of the ID.
Ronnie Ward, the public information officer with the Bowling Green Police Department, said via email that most of the bars in town are good at checking IDs.
“We don’t seem to have a large problem,” Ward said.
Ward also spoke on the penalties for possessing a fake ID.
“The (law) against having a fictitious license is Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument and is a Class C Felony,” Ward said. “Those trying to gain entry for alcohol or attempting to purchase alcohol should be aware establishments can have issues with the ABC.”
According to Kentucky Statute 532.060, a prison sentence for a class C Felony is between 5 and 10 years.
However, according to the senior from Richmond, the legal penalty for using fakes isn’t a deterrent.
“So the funny thing is, I know it’s a felony offense,” the senior from Richmond said. “And that doesn’t scare anyone that has a fake ID because nothing ever happens.”
He said bars don’t report underage drinkers but instead take matters into their own hands.
“Most bars, they just snap your ID or pin them up on the wall because they think it’s funny,” he said.
Slattery, the bartender, said when he catches fake IDs, though, he doesn’t take them. He said he tells the kids, ‘Hey, you gotta go. You can’t come in here.” Then he said he gives the IDs back.
Slattery said he returns the IDs so that he doesn’t accidentally take a real one on the off chance that he’s wrong.
Although the processes and physical handling of fake IDs have changed through time, the reason for having them hasn’t. For Talavera and the senior from Richmond, it came down to one thing: convenience.
“We didn’t have to depend on anyone or ask anyone else or be up-charged to get someone that was 21 to get (alcohol),” Talavera said.
His sentiment was echoed by the senior from Richmond.
“I’m 19. I’m at college. I’m going to drink,” the senior from Richmond said. “It just made it easier.”