Big Fake! What Happens If You’re Caught with a Fake ID?

Fake ID’s have been a problem since, well, the conception of identification documents themselves. Having the right kind of ID can grant you access to certain privileges, from being allowed to buy alcohol, vote, enter private property, and even drive. In the 21st century, photo-editing software has made faking ID’s so much easier, at least, that’s what people want you to believe.

In reality, the people who issue ID’s, mostly the government, have been up-to-date with forgery techniques, too. In fact, many government-issued ID’s have started putting in state-of-the-art countermeasures to make it so much more difficult to forge any kind of ID.

One of the most commonly forged government ID’s is the driver’s license, so much so that it’s become a cultural norm to have one when you’re a teen. Of course, most teens use it simply to buy alcohol when they’re under the legal drinking age, and the worst that usually happens when the liquor store is wise to their faking is a quick no and a boot out the door.

But what happens if you’re caught with a fake driver’s license by, say, state troopers, or your local Police Department? Well, it depends on the state, but the punishments and fines can get heavy depending on where you live, the circumstances of your detainment, how lenient or strict the judge is, and what exactly you were doing when you got caught. But do fake driver’s licenses work? Let’s look at some facts about fake ID’s:

The Legal Definition of a Fake ID

According to criminal defense lawyers, a fake ID or a false ID is “any form of identification that is forged, altered, or otherwise purports to establish the false identity of a person”.

Basically, any document that is used to establish a fake identity for yourself can be considered a false ID, whether it’s a professional job you payed some shady character to make for you or if you printed one out yourself using Photoshop and a printer. This is because government ID’s like driver’s license are only legally obtained from government agencies or the state; any document that wasn’t issued by them but carries their header is fake, and therefore, illegal.

Because the DMV is cracking down on forged licenses, they’ve initiated many anti-forgery countermeasures, which means a fake driver’s license will only work if the person checking it doesn’t scan it through the DMV’s online license database or the police’s database of outstanding warrants. Otherwise, a fake driver’s license will not work against government entities.

Laws that Govern Possession, Use, Production, Alteration, and Sale of Fake ID’s

It’s not just illegal to use a fake ID, it’s also illegal to have one, sell one, produce one, or even altering details on an existing government document. It varies per state, but each one has their own laws regarding the prohibition of the production, purchase, possession, and usage of a fake ID, as well as altering existing government documents to create false identification.

Again, each state has their own laws, but theoretically, if you get caught using, say, a fake driver’s license, the courts can charge you with violating a Fake ID law and land you in some serious trouble.

But it’s not just fake ID’s that are illegal; it’s also illegal to use a real ID (e.g. your friend’s driver license) in place of your own ID. This is the most common false ID crime committed across the country, with teenagers using it primarily to get into bars or to buy alcohol from liquor stores. It might seem harmless, but it could lead to potentially awkward, even dangerous, situations when teenagers are busted by the police for underage intoxication.

Of course, many states lessen the severity of punishment for using a real ID to impersonate someone else as compared to using a completely forged document. But remember: it still falls under the possession or usage of false identification, so whether you’re using someone else’s ID to get a loan, or to buy cigarettes when you’re a minor, it’s still a crime and there is a corresponding penalty should you get caught. If you’re using a fake ID because you’re a minor who wants to buy cigarettes or alcohol, you could land in even more trouble: one for using a fake ID, and two, for possession of alcohol and/or cigarettes.

And don’t think you can use a fake driver’s license so easily: the DMV have started issuing driver’s licenses with plenty of counter-forgery measures, from holographic stickers to unique serial codes. Police departments around the country, as well, are employing high-tech digital solutions such as on the spot scanning of ID’s and maintaining an online database of all driver’s licenses issued by the DMV.

What Happens if I Get Caught Using a Fake Driver’s License?

As mentioned above, each state has their own specific laws about possession, usage, and sale of fake ID’s as well as laws about altering existing government documents and laws about using someone else’s real ID to misrepresent yourself.

In most cases, breaking these laws will carry a misdemeanor offense, if it’s used for slightly less dangerous activities like buying alcohol/cigarettes as a minor; however, felony charges can be levied against you if you use a fake ID for more sinister purposes like, say, purchasing firearms. In some states, simply having a fake driver’s license or any forged government identification document is a felony crime, and if caught and found guilty, can land you in federal prison. Here are other penalties for using a fake ID:

Jail Time

Many states will have fake ID laws that require some jail time along with a hefty fine. Given that, however, many courts will use jail time as a last resort punishment, especially if the perpetrator is a minor, a first-time offender, or if the fake ID was used for a misdemeanor crime (e.g. buying alcohol as/for a minor). Misdemeanor fake ID crimes can land you a maximum of 12 months in jail, although most courts will probably issue a 90-day incarceration instead. Meanwhile, a felony fake ID crime, like having or using a fake driver’s license, can land you a year or more in jail as a minimum, and 10 years in prison as a maximum sentence.

Heavy Fines

On the other hand, heavy fines are more common than jail time as punishment for usage and/or possession of fake ID’s. Specific amounts can vary significantly, but first-time offenders can be looking at somewhere between $500 to $1000 penalty for possession and/or usage of fake ID’s. Felony offenses like possessing or using a fake driver’s license usually carries a $100,00 fine plus jail time.

It’s Not Worth It

Using a fake driver’s license to get away with certain things might seem exciting, but it’s definitely not worth it. Do fake driver’s licenses work? They don’t. The DMV issues countermeasures against forgery, and the police are a lot smarter than you think. Is it worth it? In my opinion, not so.



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