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Fake IDs: Problems and solutions from ABC Enforcement Chief

In a recent meeting to discuss the proposed Downtown District ordinance, Oxford Police Department Chief Joey East quoted former mayor Richard Howorth, saying, “There’s a culture of alcohol here.”

According to Rusty Hanna, Chief of Enforcement for the Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control, this so-called alcoholic culture has led to an increase in the use of fake IDs in the LOU community.

Oxford is a town with thriving nightlife and entertainment, a university which has been nationally ranked as a party school and a significant number of people ages 18 to 20 who frequent late-night establishments. With just two bars on the Square allowing underage entry, many underage patrons resort to purchasing fake IDs.

“Anywhere you have a major university, underage drinking is exaggerated because you have a lot more kids in town. You definitely have more fake IDs,” Hanna said. “I’ve worked Southern Miss, Starkville and Ole Miss. My agencies go do details in all three towns. And they will tell you, they definitely write more tickets in Oxford than anywhere else.”

During a typical Thursday night detail, Hanna said it’s nothing for his uniformed officers to write as many as 40 tickets in two hours.

However, Hanna said the bars aren’t completely to blame.

A surge in high-quality fake IDs from countries like China and India has made distinguishing a fake ID nearly impossible to the naked eye.

“They do group rates. The more you order, the cheaper they are, and kids will go in on them together. All they have to do is send their information and email a picture,” he said. “Some kids, not many, will put a fake name, but most will put their real name because when you ask for secondary identification, you need them to match.”

The proposed Downtown District ordinance from the City of Oxford requires the use of ID scanners at all establishments that sell alcohol or have age-restricted entry.

While this is a step in the right direction, Hanna said, traditional ID scanners miss the mark in deterring underage entry.

Traditional scanners are designed to examine a driver’s license and make sure the information on the front matches the information in the barcode on the back. With the advent of technology, it’s not difficult to make a fake ID to dupe the system, Hanna said.

Instead, Hanna suggested bar owners encourage their management to use the same smartphone apps his officers use. Apps like Scannr and BarZapp, for example, are designed to go beyond recognizing the information on the ID, examining the formatting of the information in the barcode.

“Some of these high-quality, internet fakes, they have the hologram, they have the UV light, but the information isn’t formatted properly,” Hanna said. “It’s looking to see how that information is stored. And then it makes a comparison and says, for example, ‘No, an Arkansas driver’s license doesn’t store its stuff that way,’ and says it’s not a legitimate license.”

Even with more advanced technology, Hannah added, there is still a chance underage patrons will slip past the system. The easiest remedy, he said, is one that may surprise people.

Having age-restricted entry to bars seems like a good plan of action, but in a college town, Hanna pointed out that many students will obtain fake IDs just to be able to go out with their of-age friends.

“A lot of bars in college towns require you to be 21 to get in. Does that mean everyone in that bar is over 21?” he said. “No. That means six out of 10 people has got a fake ID. Some of these kids just want to go dance and hang out with their friends. But they can’t get in without a fake ID, so you’re forcing people to get a fake ID if they want to get in. I know that’s not the majority of the reasons why people do it, but it is some.”

Instead of restricting entry altogether, Hanna said he’d go as far as suggesting allowing entry to those 18 and up, but charging underage patrons double the cover charge at the door, and if they leave and come back, they have to pay again. Doing so would allow those 18 to 20 to enjoy a good time with their friends while deterring underage drinking, he said.

Preventing the use of fake IDs is something Hanna said all people have to be on board with. Just because his officers or bouncers at a bar believe a person is 18 or 19 years old and using a fake ID doesn’t mean proving the ID is fake is 100 percent possible, he said.

“I’m just going to be honest, the businesses almost have a good get out of jail free card, because if they let them all in whether they think they’re real or not, they have an excuse that, ‘Hey, he had a really good ID that we thought was valid,’” Hanna said, “There’s no accountability with these fake IDs. We want everybody to have a good time, but to do so legally. It’s turned into Bourbon Street down there.”

A public hearing for the Downtown District ordinance will be held on Monday, July 2 at the Oxford Conference Center at 10 a.m. The discussion is expected to continue at the meeting of the Oxford Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, July 3 at 5:30 p.m.