For students under the age of 21, using a fake ID to purchase alcohol or to gain admittance into a bar is a common temptation. In fact, one recent study found that 20 percent of underage students of a representative sample possessed false identification. However, in Durham, bar and store employees are no strangers to the game.
David Kurz, Durham chief of police, said that although students do often slip by undetected, and that "the odds are probably on the students' side," Durham bar employees are very aware that underage UNH students have fake IDs.
"Believe me when I express my amazement at the ability of the business community in Durham to possess the expertise they do with false IDs," Kurz said.
Employees of The Knot, a small establishment located on Main Street, see one to two fake IDs on busy nights, according to owner Ryan Wambolt.
Wambolt has owned The Knot for six years, and he knows how to spot fakes. His employees are trained to do so as well, through programs such as the state-run TEAM (Total Education in Alcohol Management). If an employee spots a fake, he or she confiscates it, and the confiscated cards are then given to the liquor commissioner.
Wambolt said that charges are rarely pressed, and that there are few arrests.
"Sometimes a person will fight us on whether or not the card is real, and tell us to check the validity. Then we do, and the person is arrested. If a person gets angry and fights us on it, the police almost always arrest them," Wambolt said.
Adam Downey, an employee of Libby's Bar and Grill, a fellow restaurant on Main Street, reported that Libby's employees take away three to four fake IDs on any given Thursday or Saturday night.
Downey listed some of the criteria checkpoints to determine validity, including checking facial structure, eye color, height, whether the person's signature matches the one on the card, or observing whether or not the card looks excessively digitalized.
Downey also revealed that he tests patrons on their astrological signs.
"I'll ask, ‘What sign are you?' and if they don't know the answer, I generally ask them to leave," Downey said.
In addition, the establishment orders reference books each year, which contain pictures of valid state licenses and offer tips on what to look for.
Just like The Knot, Libby's turns in IDs to the liquor commissioner. Downey agreed with Wambolt's statement that arrests are few and far between, unless the person is argumentative, and that charges are rare as well.
Stores, too, face underage students attempting to purchase alcohol. Linda Tinker, an employee at Tedeschi's Food Shop downtown, has a stack of IDs about three inches thick. Tinker plans to turn them in the next time the commissioner visits.
Tinker demonstrated the use of the store's defense against false identification: a scanner that uses ultraviolet rays to detect fakes, aptly called a "Fraud Fighter."
"Real IDs are also laminated all the way across, even the borders. And, of course, there are no wrinkles in the lamination on valid IDs," Tinker said.
There are many telltale signs, depending on the state. Pennsylvania fakes, for example, lack a certain raised symbol in the bottom right corner, and Rhode Island fakes lack the phrase "Organ Donor" next to the little red heart that designates the owner as such. Kurz commented that some state IDs are "understood by law enforcement and the business community to be more prevalent, and therefore draw more scrutiny."
The liquor commission assigns about five investigators to Durham each weekend, and that their presence is felt most during the beginning of the academic year, according to Kurz.
Kurz said that about four to fives cases are prosecuted each month, and there isn't much that defense attorneys can do for clients, given the somewhat black and white nature of the crime.
"The issue often manifests itself later when students attempting to get a job must explain why they committed a crime," Kurz said. "Just recently I had to write a letter to the California Bar for a UNH grad who is now taking the exams to become a lawyer, for an alcohol arrest during their UNH time. Nice way to start off. When you are young, you don't think about the potential implications."