For many college students, a fake ID feels like a rite of passage. Going out to your friend’s favorite bar on a Friday night or buying alcohol for an E-Days party is what our peers tell us is part of the college experience – even if you’re under 21. We’re told that everyone has a fake, that it’s not a big deal, and that the chances of you getting caught are slim to none. But what everyone fails to talk about is what happens if you get caught with a fake ID, and how skirting around the law to get the full “college experience” can have a major impact on your life.
I was one of those students. When I first decided to get a fake ID, it seemed like a no-brainer. My 21 st birthday wasn’t until senior year, and all of my friends were already 21. I felt uncomfortable asking my friends to buy me alcohol, and it just felt easier to get it myself. I found a way to get one for a relatively “good price”, and it looked almost totally real. Sure, I knew that it could be confiscated, but my friends assured me that, worst-case scenario, it would just sit behind a bar among a stack of other confiscated IDs. Like most college students with fakes, I didn’t think I was taking a risk.
Having a fake ID was just as fun as everyone said it would be. I finally got to go out with my friends, buy my own drinks before parties, and grab a beer after a long day. The investment I made seemed totally worth it, and I stopped being careful, thinking that I would never get caught – until I did. I gave my ID to a bartender and he questioned me about it. I was taken aback, and he knew immediately that it wasn’t real. He kept the ID and I left as quickly as possible, hoping that my friends were right and that he wouldn’t turn it into the police. I was contacted by the Golden Police Department the next night.
This was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I’d never been in trouble for anything before and I hadn’t even had my first sip of alcohol until college. I barely even knew what the punishment was for what I had done. When I did some research, I discovered that what I thought was a small offense was actually a Class 6 Felony. While this is the “least serious” type of felony, even a Class 6 Felony is nothing to joke about. Being convicted of this type of crime can result in up to $100,000 in fines and 12 to 18 months in prison. Felonies stay with you for the rest of your life. They make you automatically ineligible to vote, obtain a firearm, and apply for federal student aid. You have to list any felonies you have been charged with or convicted of on every application for a job, a lease, a loan, etc. No matter the magnitude of the crime and no matter how long it has been, a felony conviction is something that reappears every time you try to take a step forward.
Even if an officer doesn’t charge you with a felony, you are far from off the hook. Minors attempting to buy alcohol with a fake ID can be charged with a Minor in Possession or Consumption of Alcohol – more colloquially known as an MIP – or a similar misdemeanor. Regardless of whether or not you have consumed alcohol, attempting to purchase it while still under the age of 21, especially with a fake ID, by all means falls under this category of crime. These charges are serious, and those over the age of 18 won’t get them expunged from their record. And similar to a felony charge, a misdemeanor like any other criminal conviction must be listed on every application you fill out.
I was shocked to learn how serious my crime was. I was sure that it wasn’t a big deal, and that kids use fake IDs all the time. But I later learned that the reason fake IDs are taken so seriously extends far beyond minors buying alcohol. A driver’s license, or any form of government identification for that matter, is used for things like getting on an airplane, opening/using a bank account, entering a military or government base, getting a job, and much more. Individuals who falsify this information can be incredibly dangerous, and thus, it’s important to be able to trust the validity of an ID.
From a more small-scale standpoint, your decision to use a fake ID can affect not only you, but also those around you. The consequences for bars and liquor stores can be severe for serving a minor, even unknowingly. Colorado liquor licenses explicitly prohibit sale of alcohol to minors, and doing so can result in fines, suspension of the license, and even the establishment being shut down. So the bartender taking your ID isn’t doing it to be mean to you, they’re just looking out for the security of their bar.
The biggest problem that promotes the continuous sale of fake IDs is a lack of education and understanding. Some minors are lucky enough to receive a small charge or none at all after they are caught, but many are not. Understanding that being caught with a fake ID can leave a mark on your life forever is one of the first steps in stopping this pandemic. And the only way to make sure you don’t get caught with a fake ID is to wait until you’re 21.
This op-ed was published anonymously by an outside contributor. If you have questions about the consequences of charges associated with fake identification, contact Mines Police Department at 303-273-3333.