High-Tech Scanner Helps Vermont Liquor Control Bust Phony IDs

Jan 26, 2018

The Department of Liquor Control has collected more than 800 fake IDs since introducing a new high-tech detection scanner at bars and stores, mostly around the Burlington area.

The department received a grant to purchase 12 of the machines, which include a scanner and a sophisticated software program that matches the phony IDs against information from official state IDs.

Skyler Genest, Vermont Department of Liquor Control's director of compliance and enforcement, says as states introduce more and more technologies to prevent fraudulent IDs, counterfeiters are improving their own methods.

He says that makes it very hard for people who work in liquor stores or at bars to tell a fake ID from a real one.

"We're seeing a lot of really high-quality fakes out there now. Without this machine, even law enforcement and people who have been in the industry and trained for years really have to struggle to know which are real and which are fake." — Skyler Genest, Vermont Department of Liquor Control

"We're seeing a lot of really high-quality fakes out there now," Genest says. "Without this machine, even law enforcement and people who have been in the industry and trained for years really have to struggle to know which are real and which are fake."

Genest says the real IDs use holograms, raised letterings, microprinting and transparent windows. All of this, he says, can be pretty well copied by counterfeit ID companies.  

When Genest slips a phony ID into the machine, a list appears on the screen, and there is a green check alongside a number of the ID card categories.

Those are the card attributes that the counterfeiters got right — but there are a few red X's from information that doesn't match up with the real card, and so the scanner rejects the ID.

"So if you look here, they got a lot of it right, and this card looks a lot like a real ID," he says about this example. "But the software caught what was wrong, and it says 'No, this is not a New York ID.'"

Genest says the scanner caught a near infrared pattern — which is actually impossible to see without a machine — so he says without the scanner, it is very hard to catch the fake IDs.

"So that's scary for us because that isn't even something we can teach people to pick up on if they don't have a machine," Genest says.

Each scanner costs about $8,000 and the department is lending them out to bars and stores.

"Young people are susceptible; they want to buy these. So they are providing their real name, often their real address. And so the problem there is that they're really opening themselves up to identity theft." — Gary Kessler, Vermont Department of Liquor Control

Department of Liquor Control Deputy Commissioner Gary Kessler says the fake IDs cost about $100 each and most of them are purchased online.

Kessler says when college students buy them they often provide their real information, so the fake IDs match the college IDs. And that, he says, can lead to some real problems.

"The black market in these has become much more sophisticated — and the vast majority of them being produced overseas," Kessler says. "And young people are susceptible; they want to buy these. So they are providing their real name, often their real address.

"And so the problem there is that they're really opening themselves up to identity theft. These people that they're purchasing them from are already criminals, and now they have this real information, and what are they gonna do with it?"

Kessler says the scanners have been used mainly in the Burlington area, but that the department will be using them more across the state.

A press release from the Vermont Department of Liquor Control last fall noted that "[u]nder Vermont law the penalty for possession of a fake ID is a $299 fine and a 60-day driver's license suspension."

VPR reporter Liam Elder-Connors contributed to this report.