Fake IDs: High access, low risk at local bars

A Civic Project story

The fake ID used by IUP student Kayla M. Cioffo. Identifying details have been obscured. Submitted photo taken with mobile phone and flash.

By Lexa Smith

INDIANA – For about six months before she turned 21, Kayla M. Cioffo, a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, used someone else’s driver’s license to get into almost every bar downtown.

Cioffo said she did not pay for her fake Pennsylvania permit. A friend found it on the ground. Its photo resembled Cioffo. The friend offered the ID to her. Cioffo took it.

“I did have a good amount of friends who were already 21,” Cioffo explained in an April 8 interview in the Stapleton Library. “I would go out with them.”

She used the ID at bars and restaurants. Only once did a server comment about the photo. Cioffo recalled ordering a drink at an Olive Garden. The waitress said she looked different than the picture. But she served the underage Cioffo the requested drink, no questions asked.

Cioffo is one of legions of underage undergraduate college students who use fake IDs to gain access to establishments that sell alcohol.

IUP student Kayla M. Cioffo describes how she acquired false identification, April 8, 2014, Stapleton Library. Video by Lexa Smith.

A non-scientific online survey of student use of fake IDs for a June 2013 article in Her Campus, an online magazine, reported that 50 percent of college-student respondents nationwide said they have used a fake ID; an additional 4.5 percent said they have one now.

Preliminary results of a more detailed study published Oct. 17 by the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that two thirds of 1,015 college-student participants in the four-year study used fake IDs. (For details, see sidebar, below.)

If two-thirds of IUP’S 12,471 fall 2013 undergraduates possessed fake IDs, they would number more than 8,000.


YET the consequences of using fake IDs are seldom seen here.

In recent years, the number of people cited by police for using fake IDs declined, according to the Indiana Magisterial District Court, even as community concern over student drinking increased. In calendar year 2011, the court heard 21 cases involving possession of false identification; in 2013, the number dropped to 14, a decline of 33 percent.

That Works Gun Pass Here Lawmakers Control Policies Should Are — As of June 6, the court reported five such cases for 2014, a continuation of the downward trend.

But anecdotal reports from bar bouncers suggest that police data may understate actual fake ID use, especially during annual weekend campus revels such as fall Homecoming and springtime IUPatty’s.

“On IUPatty’s, we confiscated about eight fake IDs, which is above what we get on a normal weekend,” said William C. Pratt, an IUP senior criminology major and Twisted Jimmy’s Bar & Lounge bouncer, in an April 4 telephone interview. “But that’s just one bar.”

Websites promoting downtown Indiana bars list a dozen or more such establishments.


PENALTIES for underage people caught presenting fake IDs to buy alcohol are a $300 fine and 90-day loss of driver’s license for a first offense, said Indiana lawyer Robert S. Muir, student-legal-services attorney for IUP’s Student Cooperative Association, in a May 27 email interview. Under provisions of state law, the fine rises to $500 for a second offense with loss of license for a year.

However, Indiana Magistrate Guy Haberl usually applies lower fines in fake-ID cases, according to a staff member in a June 6 phone interview. At the judge’s discretion, fines are $150 for a first offense and $300 for a second. Court costs of $141 also are assessed.

But at downtown Indiana bars, police rarely are summoned for fake IDs.

The policy at Twisted Jimmy’s is to advise patrons with suspected fake IDs that bouncers must call Indiana borough police for verification, said Pratt. Most patrons leave promptly. But if they argue, bouncers will call police, Pratt said. He added that he never has called the cops.

And what happens to the abandoned fake ID?

“If they leave, we just keep it,” Pratt said.

Some bar patrons said some bouncers do more than that.

Kaitlin A. Uniejewski, an IUP senior psychology major, said she never has used a fake ID and scorns students who do. But she said she has seen bouncers behave badly, too.

“I’ve seen bouncers giving back fake IDs after getting cash for them,” Uniejewski said. “They’re making using fake IDs a joke in young people’s minds.”

Senior IUP history education major Dillon C. Brinkerhoff said that shakedown scenario happened to him. A bouncer at a downtown bar confiscated his fake ID two years earlier, he recounted in a Dec. 1 interview at his Fisher Street apartment. But the bouncer offered to return the fake ID in exchange for $50. Brinkerhoff said he declined the offer and left.

Told of the alleged incident, Indiana borough police Cpl. Justin W. Schawl responded that no law requires bouncers and bar managers to inform police when a suspected fake ID has been used. But officers can become aware of fake-ID use only if bouncers and bar owners contact them directly. And it would be “inappropriate” for any bar employee to cover up an illegal act.

“Indiana police want everyone to have a good time and have a positive college experience,” Schawl said in a Nov. 22 interview at the borough police station. “Our intent is to keep everyone safe while at the same time fulfilling our obligation to the community.”

A downtown bar manager and a downtown bar owner said they do award bounties for confiscated fake IDs. Sources at Wolfie’s Pub & Club  and The Coney say they award bouncers $20 for each ID.

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ON ONE POINT, police and a downtown bar owner agree.

“Our goal in perfect world is to get rid of underage drinking entirely,” said Schawl. “This is highly unlikely, so our goal is to strictly enforce underage drinking laws and reduce dangerous drinking.”

Wolfie’s Pub & Club  owner Kenneth J. “Ken” Arthurs agreed.

“This is how we eat and pay our bills,” said Arthurs in an April 24 interview at his Philadelphia Street bar. “We take it very seriously. But no matter how hard we try to prevent it, someone eventually slips through the cracks. There has to be stiffer penalties.”

Lexa Smith, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Susquehanna.

Elizabeth Sternby, a senior journalism student from Wexford, contributed reporting.


Sidebar: The new high-tech bouncer on the block

INDIANA — Technology increasingly assists downtown-bar bouncers and owners when it comes to detecting fake identification.

The use of electronic tools is encouraged by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which urges regulated establishments to document their carding policies by using devices such as ID swipe machines and scanners.

Twisted Jimmy’s Bar & Lounge  uses the electronic devices, according to Michael Meriwether, 22, a senior sports administration major at IUP and a bouncer at the North Seventh Street watering hole.

“There are certain tools that are used to help aid us in detecting fakes,” Meriwether said in an April 22 email interview. “We can’t prevent the use of them. It’s just trying to not let people slip through the cracks with the fake IDs.”

Wolfie’s Pub & Club has invested in the electronics, too, said owner Kenneth J. “Ken” Arthurs, in an April 24 interview at his Philadelphia Street venue. But the technology accounts for only about only 10 percent of his bar’s fake ID detective work.

The remaining 90 percent is the work of the human carding by his bouncers, Arthurs said.

     — by Lexa Smith


Sidebar: Fake ID Rx

Preliminary results of a study published Oct. 17 by the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that two thirds of 1,015 college-student participants in the four-year study used fake IDs.

Researchers, who said their study was the first to examine the association between fake ID use and risk for developing alcohol-use disorders, also reported that fake-ID use appears to be related to high-risk behaviors:

  • Heavy drinkers are more likely to get and use fake IDs.
  • Fake ID users tend to drink more frequently, which can lead to alcohol dependence.

The study also included policy recommendations, including:

  • Heightened enforcement of laws against manufacturers of fake IDs
  • Confiscation of fake IDs by bars and other alcohol sellers
  • Application of fines and other legal citations and sanctions
  • Use of scanners and other ID-checking technologies in establishments that sell alcohol
  • Interventions to help fake ID users change risky behaviors
  • Parental awareness and involvement of fake ID use by young adults


 Sidebar: Fake ID legal trends

Works Are Here Should Lawmakers — Gun Pass Policies That Control The following chart shows the number of cases presented before Magisterial District Court in Indiana, Pa., for the calendar years 2011-2014 (through June 6, 2014). The number of cases corresponds to the number of local police charges for carrying false identification.

Year             # cases

2011             21
2012             18
2013             14
2014              5

Source: Indiana Magisterial District Court


Sidebar: For more information/To get involved

For more information about this story, or to get involved in the issues reported, contact the following sources:

Indiana Borough Police Department
William C. Sutton,
80 North Eighth St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724 349-2121
Web: http://www.indianaboro.com/departments/Police%20Dept/police%20department.htm

Center for Student Life
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Pratt Hall, Room 307 201 Pratt Drive Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-1264
Web: http://www.iup.edu/studentlifecenter/

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Program
Center for Health and Well-Being
Suites on Maple East
Suite G59 901 Maple St.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-1265
Email: [email protected]
Web: http://www.iup.edu/atod/

Downtown Indiana Inc.
Sean Howard,
39 N. Seventh St.
Indiana, Pa.  15701
Phone:  (724) 463-6110
Email: [email protected]
Web:  http://downtownindiana.org/

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
Western Region Information Center
Phone: 412-723-0100
Email: [email protected]
Web: http://www.lcb.state.pa.us/PLCB/Education/RAMP/FakeIDs/index.htm

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