Fighting Fakes: Train Your Staff to Check IDs Properly

Fake IDs are always a factor in this business, but major holidays make them an even greater threat.

Next week is Thanksgiving Eve, also known as Black Wednesday or Drinksgiving because it’s among the busiest bar nights of the year.

The revenue-boosting pop in business is due in large part to people traveling across the country to visit family and friends.

Relatives gathering for one of the biggest holidays of the year, people coming together to cut loose the day before Friendsgiving, and college students returning home drive big business to bars and restaurants.

This jump in traffic comes with the increased presence of fake IDs. Unfortunately, people with fakes see busy bars as a potentially weak target: an overwhelmed staff may be easier to get a bogus ID by. When speed becomes a factor, important—and legally required—details can slip through the cracks.

While researching for this article I came across something unexpected: a website purporting to sell scannable fake IDs. I’m not shocked that the site exists, I was surprised that it was the third Google result when looking for the price of this year’s US and Canada ID checking book. (A single copy from Drivers License Guide Co. is $23.95, and additional copies cost $12.95 each.)

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Operators must make sure everyone who is tasked with checking IDs knows what to look for and knows what to do if they come across a fake.

Maintain Standards

I’m going to assume that you conduct weekly staff meetings to share important information, go over numbers, shout out top performers, and set goals. I’m also going to assume that you have shift meetings on days that increased traffic is anticipated.

During staff and shift meetings, it’s crucial to stress that standards must not slip. If you employ door staff, they must check all IDs before anyone enters your venue. If you have a dining room, servers must card anyone ordering alcohol. Obviously, all bar staff must do the same.

Weeds or not—IDs must be checked.

When Robert C. Smith, founder of Nightclub Security Consultants, addressed checking IDs in his Nightclub & Bar article “Are You Checking IDs Properly?”, he wrote about talking to 48 state beverage control inspectors in 18 states. Smith asked the inspectors about the top reason that people failed decoy compliance checks.

Sixty percent of the inspectors pointed to the failure to even check an ID in the first place. It’s difficult to detect a fake if, you know, nobody asks for and actually checks an ID.

Speaking of percentages, one study found that college students who obtained alcohol before they turned 21 used fake IDs approximately 25 percent of the time. Another study revealed that 11 percent of the alcohol in the US is consumed by underage people.

Of course, this isn’t just about standards. This is about protecting public safety and protecting your liquor license. As an operator in this business, you have a responsibility to ensure your guests and employees are safe. Hence, responsible alcohol service.

As Whitney Larson explained in her Nightclub & Bar article, “Serving a Minor: Who’s at Risk and What’s at Stake?”, the act of checking IDs can reduce or eliminate an operator’s liability.

“When a minor is served, you need to show that you took steps to the best of your ability to avoid purposefully serving that person,” said Larson. “That means, in most cases, you’re only liable for selling to a minor if you didn’t ask for identification or if you looked but didn’t use your best abilities to detect the minor. If the guest presents a realistic ID that says he or she is of drinking age, no charges will be filed against the establishment.”

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Larson also pointed out that most identification stings—in which inspectors don’t use fakes—are failed because nobody bothered to check IDs or incorrectly calculating ages.

Checking IDs

So, you’ve informed your staff that they need to remain vigilant at even the busiest times and check IDs. You’ve explained that this is a legal requirement, your standard, and it’s for the good of the safety of guests and the community. You’ve told them that can’t drop standards no matter how busy they are. What’s next?

Knowing how to check an ID, of course. According to Drivers License Guide Co., these are the simplest steps on which your staff should be trained:

  • Does the photo on the ID look like the person presenting it? On IDs that feature two photos, are they identical?
  • Is the license expired or valid? Train your staff to look for expiry dates on IDs.
  • Do the math: Is the person of legal drinking age when checking their birthdate?

The easiest way to begin training on identification is to ensure staff members know the features of IDs in the state in which you operate. Go over the security features of your state’s driver licenses and ID cards:

  • What color inks are used for date of birth (DOB), issue date, expiration date, etc.?
  • Do any sections utilize raised-letter embossing, such as DOB?
  • How many digits comprise a driver license number in your state? Six? Seven? Eight?
  • For how long are IDs in your state valid? If the span of time on an ID is too long or too short, that’s a red flag.
  • What’s on the back of your state’s DLs and ID cards? A scannable magnetic strip and barcodes are common in many states.
  • What holograms are used, and where are they on the ID?
  • Does your state utilize an intricate, precise guilloche pattern on its IDs? If so, get to know its appearance.

When your staff checks IDs, they should get in the habit of running their thumb across it in the same way you’ve probably seen dedicated door personnel do. That means requiring guests to remove them from wallets or other holders. This provides a tactile method for checking if an ID has been subjected to tampering, like peeling or cracking, or birthdates that have been altered or removed via chemicals or mechanical means. Getting in the habit of holding and feeling IDs can also help staff members detect if the weight or size is off.

Body language can be another red flag. When you observe trained security personnel checking IDs, they’re not just looking at the ID holder to make sure they match the photo(s)—they’re reading body language. Why would someone be fidgety or sweaty or otherwise indicate nervous when presenting an ID unless they’re up to no good, like trying to access alcohol while underage or planning to commit credit card fraud?

Suspicious IDs and body language can and should be met with questions designed to trip up people presenting fakes. The goal isn’t to necessarily seek out correct answers, although that’s part of it. Some questions can make a guilty party pause or otherwise react unnaturally. Smith suggests, “What high school did you go to?” and, “What’s your sister’s zodiac sign?” in his article.

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Yet another warning sign something isn’t right can be an influx of young-looking people in different groups showing up with out-of-state IDs. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that tourists from a particular state are showing up in independent groups. But if something doesn’t feel right, staff should feel empowered to go with their gut feelings and raise an alarm.


Living in the era of technology as we do, there are handhelds and apps that can help detect fake IDs. Some ID scanners are priced as low as a few hundred dollars, whereas “military-grade” devices can pass the thousand-dollar mark.

Intellicheck, a leader in ID scanning and age verification technology, offers hospitality venues their GuestID solution. The goal is fast and accurate ID checking via a mobile device or an existing management platform.

GuestID can not only populate “banned” and “do not serve” groups, it can alert management to VIPs and others upon their arrival to a venue. Be aware that some states have regulations for ID scanning and how long data can be stored.

Protect Your Business

You only get so many “strikes” for failing an ID sting or serving minors before you lose your license. The fines are pricey—losing your business is even costlier. Staff members who fail to “reasonably” check IDs can face felony charges, a fact of which you should inform your team.

Create a policy addressing your expectations for checking IDs. Include training, standard procedures, and consequences for failing to uphold your standards. If you want to be aggressive, offer bounties for finding fake IDs. Work with local law enforcement to learn how to spot fakes and what to do when you or a staff member encounter one.

Word will spread if you become known for sniffing out IDs. The path of least resistance—bars, restaurants and nightclubs that don’t check IDs or care if they find one—is the most attractive to underage drinkers and people looking to commit fraud.

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Everyone should be vigilant against fake IDs every shift, of course. But busy bar holidays should put every guest-facing team member on high alert. Their livelihoods and the future of your business depend on it.

Want to learn to protect yourself, your staff and your venue from lawsuits and fines? Robert C. Smith and Manny Marquez of Nightclub Security Consultants will be conducting National HOST Security Certification and hosting the "Savvy Security for a Positive Guest Experience" session at the 2020 Nightclub & Bar Show. Register now!