WORDS: Brooke Sperbeck | VIDEO: Natalie Alexander

Walking up to the door of SLO Brew, Cal Poly senior Amy Jones* was confident she’d memorized everything the bouncer might question on her fake ID.

“I was expecting him to ask me when I was born, or where did I live, stuff like that,” Jones said. “But he just looked at it for a while, he bent it, looked at the front and back. He looked back at me, and he just knew it was fake.”

Jones is one of many Cal Poly students who has gotten a fake ID taken away.

“I was very understanding and he told me, ‘you can either walk away or wait here until the cops come to check your ID,’” Jones said. “So choosing the smart decision, I walked away.”

As a senior who doesn’t turn 21 until May, Jones felt the pressure from her friends to use a fake ID. She already ordered another ID — two copies for $150 — from an online manufacturer in China and is waiting for it to arrive.

“Every single week, it’s always like, ‘Amy, get a fake,’ ‘Amy, when’s your ID coming?’ or Amy, we need to find a girl who looks likes you,” Jones said.

As an experienced fake ID user, Jones knows which places will accept one. Her former fake ID worked at Marston’s and Bull’s Tavern before it was taken.

“I’m definitely more cautious of places that I’m going — SLO Brew is off my list,” Jones said. “Probably Frog and Peach — I’ve heard it’s not as hard, especially because I have friends who know a door guy, so that will help.”

Which bars are the hardest to get into? Click on the hotspots to hear students’ opinions.

Graphic by Adriana Catanzarite

Whether it’s Mother’s Tavern, Bull’s Tavern or SLO Brew, most San Luis Obispo bars are known for upholding strict security protocols in pursuit of catching college students with fake IDs.

“Students are used to getting away with their ID in their hometown, then they bring it to SLO and they think the same kind of laid-back approach to people not really checking their IDs is going to happen,” said Tyler Wojtowicz, a political science senior and doorman at Mother’s Tavern.

Wojtowicz estimates he’s checked approximately 30,000 IDs in nearly two years as a doorman. By now, he’s familiar with the telltale signs someone is using a false form of identification, whether it’s a fake ID or someone else’s ID.

When he works the door, Wojtowicz looks to see if the ID is overly faded or bleached white. He’ll study the person’s ears, nose, chin and forehead to see if those features match with the picture.

Avoiding eye contact is another sign someone might be lying about their ID. As a final test, Wojtowicz asks people for their signatures to verify identification.

“If the signatures don’t match up, then it’s pretty evident it’s not their ID because signatures are like fingerprints,” Wojtowicz said. “They’re pretty unique to that person.”

Mother’s Tavern is not the only bar that takes extra measures to verify students’ IDs are real.

The Library, Frog and Peach and a half-dozen other bars all share the same owners as Mother’s Tavern, and these establishments’ doormen become certified through a training process called Licensee Education on Alcohol and Drugs (LEAD), Wojtowicz said.

Graphic by Brooke Sperbeck

If a doorman believes someone is using a fake or another person’s ID, the establishments will text law enforcement officers to assist with the situation.

“Most of the time SLOPD is outside, and we’re required to hand over any kind of fraudulent ID to law enforcement,” Wojtowicz said.

San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) Captain Christopher Staley says his department primarily comes into contact with people using fake IDs in one of two ways — getting into bars and buying alcohol at liquor stores.

Though students will get caught using other people’s IDs, most of SLOPD’s encounters deal with fake IDs.

“Most of the time we see ones that are manufactured now,” Staley said. “The manufacturing has gotten pretty good. I know some of these IDs are pretty believable to look at, there’s some very slight modifications.”

How can you tell if an ID is fake? Click to enlarge the image.

Graphic by Megan Heddinger

Once SLOPD responds to someone reportedly using a fake ID, Staley recommends people “be mature and deal with the situation like an adult.”

“Sometimes we’ve had people who have tried to run. That can obviously make it worse,” Staley said. “We have people where they want to get confrontational, which is obviously not the best route to take.”

Guy Galambos, a criminal defense attorney at Stein, Casciola & Galambos law firm in San Luis Obispo, agrees that it’s best to be respectful when being questioned by law enforcement.

But some people don’t realize they have the right to remain silent when being questioned by officers.

“They will make it seem like if you don’t say anything the case is going to get worse,” Galambos said. “Most of the time they’re looking for some admission or confession on the suspect’s part before they’ve got a good enough case to prosecute it.”

Galambos estimates one or two of his four to six monthly clients need assistance with fake ID charges.

“Certain months it’s more prevalent than others,” Galambos said. “The very beginning of school year seems to be a perfect time, especially Week of Welcome and weeks that follow, seems to be a time when local law enforcement puts a lot of effort in.”

There are three possible charges officers may use to prosecute someone who uses a fake ID: a business and professions code charge for presenting false evidence of age, a vehicle code charge for using a fake driver’s license and a felony charge of false personation. Though a felony is the rarest form Galambo sees, it’s also the most serious.

“If they think you were using someone’s license and trying to act or be that other person, there’s a felony charge of false personation,” Galambos said. “It’s almost like identity theft.”

All three charges can include hundreds of dollars in fines depending on the situation. A vehicle code charge can also revoke the person’s driver’s license privilege for a year.

“Sometimes, if we’re trying to preserve their ability to drive, we can do plea bargaining with the prosecutor and just get a different charge as opposed to the original charge,” Galambos said.

Though Galambos recommends students not use a fake ID if they don’t want to get in trouble, he advises students who do use them to be smart.

“The best advice I would give someone would be just to know your rights,” Galamabos said. “If you get into the situation where someone is accusing you a of a crime, you don’t want to make it worse.”

*Editor’s note: The name of this source has been changed.

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  1. Great article, although I wish you had talked a little about how the bouncers sometimes harass people who are of drinking age just because they have an old photo on their ID, or the ID is near expiration.

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