Wave of fake driver’s licenses, IDs hits Aspen
January 11, 2016
The hordes of visitors who descended on Aspen for Christmas this year not only left behind their money and holiday cheer — they also left a ton of fake IDs, police said.
"We're getting a lot of calls (about fake IDs) every day," said Aspen police officer Brian Stevens, who investigates juvenile crimes.
However, it's not just visitors trying to pass themselves off as adults. Underage locals are obtaining fake driver's licenses, too, and could be leaving themselves vulnerable to identity theft because they're sending personal information to foreign criminal organizations, said Stevens and Pitkin County Sheriff's Investigator Bruce Benjamin.
A prosecutor in Pitkin County Court on Tuesday brought up a "wave of fake IDs at Aspen High School" in reference to the sentencing of an 18-year-old student who pleaded guilty to possession of a forged document, which she bought off the Internet. She was caught trying to buy two bottles of wine at a local liquor store. And Benjamin said he interviewed a 19-year-old former Aspen High student last week who told him she ordered her fake ID from a Philippines-based website, though it came in an envelope from China.
"She paid $100 for two," Benjamin said. "They tend to give you two, figuring one might be confiscated."
Stevens showed off a stack of about 60 fakes he received last week from just one marijuana dispensary in town, which collected them over the past two or three weeks, he said. Dispensaries and liquor stores are legally required to turn fake IDs over to law enforcement.
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It appears that underage people in Aspen are using fakes far more often at dispensaries than at liquor stores. Managers at three Aspen-area liquor stores — Airport Liquor at the Aspen Business Center, The Grog Shop and Local Spirits — all said Friday they occasionally see fake IDs, but no more than one or two a month.
But Alex Brough of Native Roots in Aspen said Friday that his employees took four fake IDs on Thursday alone and confiscated about 20 in the past two weeks.
"We saw a lot (of fakes) around X Games and spring break last year," Brough said. "But it wasn't really like it is right now. It's definitely been an insane amount of fakes."
He said the influx of fakes began around Christmas and might have to do with college ski tours coming to town.
Native Roots has a scanner and book showing the various state driver's licenses. However, many of the fakes have been of good quality, Brough said, so if employees have a question, they sometimes will call police to come down to the store and check an individual customer's ID. That occurred at least once last week, as well, he said.
"We can't give it back until we know for sure (it's not fake)," he said. "If we call and they run, we know. If they stay, it's probably real."
Native Roots was cited by the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division in the summer for selling to a minor, so the company is extra-diligent about checking IDs, Brough said.
"It's our top priority," he said.
The state can suspend a dispensary's license and fine the business for selling to minors.
A manager at another local dispensary, who did not want to be identified, also said his employees have confiscated about 20 fake IDs in the past two weeks. However, two other dispensaries — Alternative Medical Solutions and Stash — said they haven't run into many fakes in recent weeks.
Benjamin, who investigates juvenile crimes for the county, said law enforcement noticed an influx of fakes a few years ago that was traced to a Chinese website that was shut down in 2012.
The newest wave of fakes began about a year ago and are likely coming from a website based in Ukraine and another based in the Philippines, Benjamin said. On Friday, a reporter clicked on the Ukraine-based site, which immediately tripped alarm bells and crashed the computer's browser.
But the Philippines-based site worked normally and identified itself as a "novelty service" that offered driver's licenses from 16 U.S. states, mainly in the East, though Arizona was included. The site directs customers to submit a digital photo taken with a real camera as opposed to a cellphone camera, with specific instructions on how the picture should be taken and what should be worn.
Customers also must submit a picture of their signature. The price on the site is $200 for two IDs for one person, though discounts are offered for large groups. It's unclear exactly how payment is made because the site says it will contact customers with payment information.
Stevens and Benjamin said people often will submit their real names and sometimes even their real addresses for the fakes. Also, they often will only change the year of their birthdate, they said.
The stack of 60 fakes Stevens recently received showed a vast difference in quality. The licenses were from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and other states. The laminate didn't reach the edges of some. On others, the person's height was listed in inches instead of feet and inches. Still others featured fuzzy pictures and printing.
However, others looked real, and Benjamin said some will scan with no problems when put through scanners at marijuana dispensaries. Others also featured holograms, which appears to cost extra on the website.
Kids should be aware they are sending their personal information, including name, real street address (because it has to be sent through the mail to them) and other details to foreign criminals, Stevens and Benjamin said.
"This is not information you want to send to an overseas criminal organization," Benjamin said. "It puts them at huge risk for identity theft."
And they also might have to take a trip through the local criminal justice system. If Stevens or Benjamin recognizes a person in a fake ID they receive from a dispensary or liquor store as a local resident, they will contact the person and charge them with possessing a forged document, a misdemeanor.
The 18-year-old woman last week in Pitkin County Court received a one-year deferred sentence, meaning her guilty plea will be expunged from her record if she stays out of trouble for a year. However, she also will have to serve 12 hours community service, supply the Sheriff's Office with the details of how she obtained her fake ID and appear before a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim-impact panel.
"Among local kids, we're hoping word will get out … that you can get in a lot of trouble," Benjamin said.