When the fleeing motorcycle hit the curb, scraped past a utility pole and hurled 20-year-old Craig Eney to his death, a bogus South Carolina driver’s license was in the hip pocket of his jeans. He spent the final hours of his life trading on that phony license to buy shots for his buddies at two downtown Annapolis bars, places so popular among underage drinkers that bouncers are stationed outside to check everyone’s ID. Yet scores of young people flash fake driver’s licenses and waltz on by to the bar.
The days when faking driver’s licenses was a cottage industry — often practiced in college dorm rooms by a computer geek with a laminating machine — have given way to far more sophisticated and prolific practitioners who operate outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement.
In an era when terrorism and illegal immigration have transformed driver’s licenses into sophisticated mini-documents festooned with holograms and bar codes, beating the system has never been easier. Just wire money to “the Chinese guy.”
“He’s like some sort of genius in China,” said a 19-year-old for whom Eney bought shots that night. “Every kid in Annapolis has one of his licenses.”
The “Chinese guy” — whose e-mail address is passed around on college campuses and among high school kids — is actually a Chinese company that mails untold thousands of fake driver’s licenses to the United States. They have been turning up in states from coast to coast.
To the naked eye — even the practiced eye of most bartenders and police officers — the counterfeits look perfect. The photo and physical description are real. So is the signature. The address may be, too. The holograms are exact copies, and even the bar code can pass unsophisticated scans.
“We’re seeing these false IDs being generated from the same source out of China,” said Steven Williams, chief executive of Intellicheck, which supplies detection equipment to federal agencies, law enforcement and businesses. “There’s a rampant distribution of false IDs . . . from China, from one source.”
The IDs have shown up in various states, each license carrying a mysterious hidden tip-off in the bar code that points directly to the same Chinese company.
Eney’s 19-year-old drinking companion said she can’t recall who gave her the e-mail address for “the Chinese guy.” She soon discovered that friends on campuses in California and New England had it, too.
More than just the rage among underage drinkers, the top-flight bogus licenses are a hot item among practitioners of credit-card fraud.
But it is among those too young to drink legally that these forgeries contribute to the worst carnage.