Fake identification still an issue downtown

By Mitch Blomert

Underage customers of downtown Athens aren’t being deterred from sneaking into local bars.

Despite heavy security at bars and state attempts to cut down on the distribution of fake identification cards by re-designing the Georgia driver’s license, many Athens venues still have problems with under-21 residents trying to gain access to alcohol.

“It’s a safe assumption that every bar is going to have underage kids trying to get into their bar,” said Sammy Bays, a bartender at The Mad Hatter on Clayton St. “Athens is a popular place to be social, and being underage isn’t going to slow anyone down.”

Athens bars typically regulate which customers get inside—and which ones get left out—by employing a doorman at the entrance of each venue around 9 p.m. each night.

These doormen check the identification cards of customers in line and can deny anyone who does not appear to have a legitimate I.D.

“Good doormen are important to bars because they keep out people who shouldn’t be in the bar,” Bays said. “If the doors were open and we checked I.D.s at the counter, we’d probably lose track of everyone and accidently let a drink end up with someone underage.”

To help alleviate the problem of false identification usage, The Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles released a new driver’s license in the fall of 2009 with enhanced security features that make counterfeiting and altering more preventable.

The new card features “ghost” photographs next to the actual photograph, making the card harder to counterfeit.

The card also has a two-dimensional barcode containing the cardholder’s information that makes the production of a fake I.D. more difficult—and highly distinguishable if attempted.

“The card is definitely more legit,” Bays said. “It’s probably harder to fake.”

But some customers of downtown Athens bars are skeptical that a new identification card is going to alleviate the problem of underage consumption in Athens.

Instead, they believe that underage customers are getting into the bars by using legitimate I.D. cards belonging to friends over the age of 21.

“I think that more people are just getting a friend’s card and getting in with that,” said Eric Angel, a senior at the University of Georgia and a regular at downtown Athens bars. “Not a lot of people that I know of go to the lengths of getting a fake made when they can just borrow one from another person.”

Angel says that because so many students are using friends’ state-issued identification cards rather than making a counterfeit, the new Georgia driver’s license has probably not been effective at stopping underage residents daring enough to try and enter the bar.

“For people I know, it’s not an issue of trying to duplicate a real I.D.,” he said. “It’s that they want to find someone else’s old I.D. and just use that.”

Doormen are responsible for checking I.D.s at the entrances of their bars to ensure that each customer is authorized to enter the building. This includes matching the customer with the card picture, the listed birthday and the expiration date.

If a customer does match their card’s picture, or the license is expired, the doorman has the right to deny their admittance to the bar.

“We won’t let in anyone who has an expired card or is obviously using someone else’s,” Bays said. “Someone people push the limits.”

Angel knows those types of people.

He has “a couple” of friends that have been denied access to bars to a series of different reasons, including an expired card or a picture that didn’t resemble the false owner.

“The IDs are legitimate, but the person using them is not,” Angel said. “They forget to check expiration dates if it’s someone else’s old card and that gets a lot of people booted.

“If you don’t look a thing like the person on the card, you’re killing your chances of getting in or you’ll get in trouble with the law.”

While most doormen will simply hand the card back ask the customer to leave if they are denied access to the bars, being caught with a fake ID has greater consequences if it’s the police that find it.

Athens-Clarke County Police classify fake identification possession as a misdemeanor and is punishable by as much as 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. It can also deduct points from the person’s actual driver’s license.

“It’s not something you want to be caught with,” Bays said.

But even bars themselves are taking chances. Bays says that some places aren’t being picky about who gets in because they don’t want to lose business.

“They want as many customers as they can get,” she said. “Some places will just look at the card and if it’s good they’ll send you in.”

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