On August 11, Shelter Island police officers, assisted by Southold police officers and one “underage agent,” visited four restaurants on Shelter Island and arrested bartenders at The Dory, SALT and Sunset Beach Hotel.
The bartenders allegedly failed to ask the underage agent to present identification and sold him alcohol.
Shelter Island Police Chief Jim Read said that this sting operation was a “standard procedure” that is carried out every summer with the department receiving complaints about underage drinking at these and other restaurants and bars.
Getting served with no ID is a problem, but an even more serious aspect of people drinking under 21, the legal age to buy and consume alcohol in New York State, is the use of fake identification presented in bars, restaurants and retail outlets.
Fake IDs are dangerous to carry and use, but that doesn’t stop underage Islanders from going to great lengths to obtain them. One 20-year-old Islander, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, and whom we’ll call Alex, told the Reporter that he’s had 11 fake IDs to date.
Alex got his first fake ID in his sophomore year of high school because he “wanted to be cool and be able to buy beer” instead of having others buy it for him.
Ordering that first set of IDs involved sending an email to an address he was given with his date of birth and a headshot of himself. He was directed to wire a Western Union number $250. Finally he met a stranger in an abandoned mall to pick up his phony identification.
“Those were the days before you could just order them online,” he said. “I’ve never been so scared.”
Today, most fake IDs are ordered from websites based in China with URL names like “IDGod” or “ReallyGoodFakes” that can easily be found via a Google search. Ordering a fake ID typically involves wiring money to a distributor through a money transfer service, although some websites accept bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency.
These IDs are usually sold in sets of two and arrive in packs of playing cards, inside instruction manuals or between plates of styrofoam.
According to a blog on the InsiderMonkey website called “The 7 Easiest and Most Common Fake ID States,” the most popular states to be faked are Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Other internet sources speak highly of Colorado, Georgia and Minnesota.
“It all depends where you live,” Alex said. “You want to get an ID from somewhere super far away from your home state. That way, the [bartender] won’t know what to look for.”
According to one Island waiter/bartender who sees fake IDs “regularly on the weekends,” the tell-tale signs for a phony card are “obscured lines around the date-of-birth,” which reveal photoshopping; the absence of a hologram that reflects the colors of the rainbow when tilted; or the absence of certain watermarks.
When he suspects that a license is fake, he asks questions about date of birth and eye color to try and “put the person on the spot.” He also spends a lot of time comparing the picture on the ID to its user, since underage drinkers often try to use the real IDs of their older siblings or friends.
All servers and bartenders reserve the right to refuse a person service if they suspect an ID is fake, even if they can’t prove it. According to Alex, many off-Island club bouncers are paid cash bonuses for every fake ID they seize.
In New York State, the crime charged for possession of a fake ID is criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree, a class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
If the person’s real information is on the fake ID, the person can be charged with criminal impersonation, which is an “A” misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.
According to New York State records, more than 840 minors were arrested last year in New York for using fake identification to buy alcohol, 239 of them on Long Island.
Asked how many teenagers have been penalized for using fake IDs on Shelter Island, Chief Read said that the Shelter Island Police Department “typically tries to target the establishments or the sellers, not individual ID users.”
That being said, he can “recall a few times” when an underage drinker has presented an Island officer with fake ID and been penalized with a “serious” charge.
Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley told the Reporter that the enforcement of underage youths using fake IDs is often complaint-driven.
“When members of the public see obviously underage youths in bars or buying beer at a convenience store, they say something,” the chief said.
On a regular basis, New York State police will make a sweep through Southold and attempt to buy alcohol with an underage youth under their control. If the underage youth is successful, the police arrest or ticket the employee that sold them the alcohol.
Alex has had multiple IDs taken by bartenders and knows he runs the risk of being criminally penalized each time he has one taken. But, he added, in the end, it’s worth it.
“They’re totally necessary if you want to go out,” he said. “You can’t not have one.”