By Mary Kate Ausbrook
Fake IDs and underage consumption of alcohol create an expansive black market. Many American teenagers use fake IDs to make them appear 21 so that they can get into bars, buy alcohol, and illegally drink. The market for fake IDs follows a large network of connections as American college and high school students provide most of the demand while overseas suppliers fulfill that demand. Some order directly from suppliers in other countries, providing their personal information and photos. However, upon turning 21 and obtaining a legal ID, the fake one is no longer needed. Another black market thus exists for these IDs that end up getting sold to desperate teenagers who want to drink and go to bars with their friends. The demand for fake IDs will remain high as the temptation to participate in underage drinking will persist as long as the drinking age is 21. Additionally, without a fake ID, another market arises as teenagers desire to consume alcohol but lack the means to purchase it themselves. They turn to others to buy alcohol for them. The high demand for fake IDs and underage drinking ultimately demonstrates a combination of a complex international market and a domestic black market among youths that will continue to persist.
Teenagers buy fake IDs and sustain this black market because underage drinking represents an American rite of passage. Encyclopedia Britannica defines a rite of passage as a “ceremonial event, existing in all historically known societies, that marks the passage from one social or religious status to another.”[i] Rites of passage influence young people as they “bring changes in social status and, therefore, in the social relations of the people concerned.”[ii] Engaging in a rite of passage suggests a social transformation of moving from one social status to another such as participating in bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and graduating high school. Underage drinking and fake ID use represent rites of passage for American youths because their social status transforms into a more adult like status as they participate in adult activities. Professor of psychology at Colgate University states that “Americans like the illicit part of [underage drinking] – they see that as a rite of passage.”[iii] Her reference to specifically “Americans” also reinforces the uniqueness of the American 21+ law for alcohol consumption and the nation’s distinctive binge drinking culture among teenagers. Because the law restricts American teens from legally consuming or purchasing alcohol, teens need fake IDs to participate in this cultural initiation into adulthood. As rites of passage in American society, American teenagers continually seek out the opportunity to engage in these illicit activities.
In addition, the perception of consuming alcohol as a fun experience prompts teens to crave it, especially in high amounts. One of the top reasons teenagers drink alcohol is because of the “instant gratification” it provides.[iv] Because one can start to feel the effects of alcohol quickly, especially among teens who often binge drink, alcohol provides an immediate benefit. Teens report that they drink because they feel more outgoing and it loosens them up,[v] while at the same time, other effects of alcohol can be drowsiness, nausea, and headaches.[vi] Therefore, the argument can be made that these feelings of “fun” or “loosened up” demonstrate one’s expectation of drinking alcohol, but not the actual effects of it. Regardless, as long as teens have this anticipation of consuming alcohol to be “fun,” they will keep pursuing opportunities to engage in these illegal activities.
Peer pressure proves to be another factor that heightens American teenagers’ demand to buy fake IDs and drink illegally. Based on a study reported by CBS, almost 75% of kids between the ages of 12-17 were more likely to engage in underage drinking if they saw their peers doing it on social media.[vii] Not only does real life peer pressure play a role in underage drinking, but now social media does too. This aspect of underage drinking contributes to the persistent demand for fake IDs because this evidence demonstrates the cultural significance as well. According to Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion, social proof presents the idea that “We copy what others do, especially when we are unsure.” Thus, the social inclination to follow others creates incentive to underage drink and thus reinforces the market for alcohol and fake IDs.
Movies and TV shows also perpetuate the underage alcohol consumption and fake ID use as routine and socially encouraged. Initially airing on the CW network and now accessible on Netflix, the show “Gossip Girl” follows the lives of elite teenagers in New York City. Between the drama of whether or not Blair Waldorf will end up with Chuck Bass or whatever scandal is breaking out on the Upper East Side, these A-list American teens constantly and easily underage drink. They get in to bars, have alcohol on hand most of the time, and make drinking seem like a normal activity, despite the fact that they are all between the ages of 15-19. As a top-rated show and with an average audience demographic of girls aged 12-17, [ix]“Gossip Girl” portrays underage drinking as commonplace to a young audience. A study in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics argues that “adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the messages conveyed through television, which influence their perceptions and behaviors,”[x] highlighting the potential influence media has on adolescent participation in underage drinking. Media can encourage teens to participate in illicit activities because shows like “Gossip Girl” depict drinking as a social norm for teenagers.
The rise of the internet satisfies and expands the high demand for fake IDs as teenagers can more easily send their information through websites. Sites such as premiumfakes.com or idgod.ph draw an immense amount of business from American teenagers and produce the IDs from an “offshore location,”[xi] often China. To purchase one, a teen can merely go on one of the websites and enter all the information it asks for, including a photo taken against a blank wall and a photo of your signature. This information then gets sent to China where the manufacturers produce the IDs and send them back using jewelry boxes or another subtle disguise. These manufacturers promote their high-quality IDs by claiming “We make it easy for you and your friends” and “We offer you a chance to have a great time with your friends!”[xii] They target teenagers by emphasizing the easy process and by illustrating the ease in which teens can go out and consume alcohol with their friends. In addition, these websites offer a reduced price if IDs are ordered in bulk. This system encourages more and more teens to purchase IDs as they might hear by word of mouth that another person is needed in an order to get the discount. Ultimately, these websites know how to attract teens and satisfy their high demand for IDs, exemplifying the way the internet makes fake IDs much more accessible.
Furthermore, another fake ID market exists within the United States as many IDs get passed down to younger kids. According to research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 45% of subjects received their fake IDs from a non-relative, while 24% received them from a relative. Many teenagers purchase IDs from those they know who are 21 years old and who resemble them.[xiii] David Huff, a special agent with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control points out that “If I’m a blonde female, 5-foot-4, with blue eyes, it’s easy enough to change my hair and makeup to look like my friend so that the guy at the door is not going to notice.”[xiv] Thus, many people easily purchase fake IDs through this domestic black market.
An interview with an underage college student puts this black market into perspective as it shows how easy it can be to participate in these illicit activities. The person interviewed is a 19-year-old female and a member of a sorority. She has a 23-year-old older sister with a similar appearance who resides in Chicago, from whom she received a real ID. Her sister still possesses her Illinois driver’s license, but also had a legal state identification card with the same information on it that she was able to pass down to her 19-year-old sister.[xv] This ID has enabled the college student to get into local bars, purchase alcohol, and participate in these activities rather easily. This example provides insight into the simple transaction to obtain an fake ID.
Furthermore, this student’s description of the actual utilization of the ID proves how desperately underage kids want to be a part of this drinking scene. The same interviewee said, “I do still get super nervous whenever I use it just because my sister and I have different colored eyes. If the bouncer looks at the eye color on the ID and looks at mine then it just becomes obvious that it isn’t me.” Students clearly experience anxiety when attempting to use their IDs. Despite this nervousness, they risk it constantly for the thrill of being in a bar and consuming alcohol freely. The student also states that “Then if the bouncer asks me for a second form of ID I’m done since I don’t have anything else with my sister’s name on it. I’ve changed my social media name to hers and that has worked like twice but most of the time that isn’t gonna work as second form.”[xvi] The fact that teens go to the extent of even changing their identity on social media to drink exemplifies the desperate nature of this market.
Another interviewed female student has a fake ID with her own photo and name, but a random address in a random state that she acquired from a Chinese producer. When asked whether she gets nervous when using it she said “Honestly you just have to be confident… but it also depends where you use it… mine is from South Carolina and using it in Indiana makes it kind of suspicious… I feel like nobody who comes to IU is from South Carolina.”[xvii] Her testimony emphasizes that confidence is key and that the quality of the fake ID from China is not something she worries about. The bigger issue is that certain states do not make sense in certain regions such as South Carolina in Indiana. Figure 1 is an example provided by the Chinese supplier premiumfakes.com and shows just how realistic an ID can be.[xviii] Thus, sometimes the stress of using a fake does not come from how good the quality of the ID is but rather where it is from. This leads students to choose states for their fake IDs that are near where they attend college.
Additionally, even without a fake ID, teens can participate in alcohol consumption by finding older people to supply for them, ultimately supporting a market for illicit activity. In the study “Youth Acquisition of Alcohol and Drinking Contexts: An In-Depth Look,” researchers found through interviews with teenagers that many get their alcohol from an older sibling, an older acquaintance of somebody within the circle of friends, or a friend with a fake ID.[xix] Thus, anyone over 21 serves as another opportunity for minors to obtain alcohol. Finding someone to purchase for a teenager becomes easily facilitated by word of mouth as one subject in the same study responded, “There’s one person who can get [alcohol] and then everyone asks them to get it for them.”[xx] As long as a minor distantly knows one person who will buy for them, this illegal market easily survives and can spread by word of mouth to other teens in the area. Youths also become easily persuaded into drinking being a regular event as they fall into the trap of reciprocity. The same study found “There was a higher likelihood that with their close friends, teens would have a system of reciprocity established whereby one teen would put up all the money on one occasion, and a friend might do so the next time.”[xxi] This tendency proves the temptation to give in to the immediate benefit and ensure a next time as part of their reciprocation. This idea also plays into another one of Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion known as reciprocity, which argues that humans feel obligated to give something back to those who give to them.[xxii] With this expectation of reciprocity and anticipation of there being another time in the near future to underage drink, this illicit market thrives as the demand for alcohol stays high.
The illicit market for fake IDs and alcohol for minors survives because the students persistently desire to participate in such activities. Fake IDs will hold dominance on college campuses as new freshmen want to get into the bars, and high school students seek older friends to buy them alcohol for their weekend parties. Teenagers fuel this black market that reaches as far as China and back. The internal market also spans state lines as IDs get transferred between various states. While drinking remains a part of American culture and the drinking age stays 21, this market will continue to grow.
[i] Norbeck, Edward, and Bobby C. Alexander. “Rite of Passage.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 11 June 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/rite-of-passage.
[iii] Kelly, Jon. “Why Fake ID Is an American Rite of Passage.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Apr. 2013, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21976718.
[iv] “Top 8 Reasons Why Teens Try Alcohol and Drugs.” Where Families Find Answers on Substance Use | Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 13 Feb. 2017, drugfree.org/parent-blog/top-8-reasons-teens-try-alcohol-drugs/.
[v] Bellum, Sara. “Expectations and Alcohol: The Fun May Be in Your Head.” NIDA for Teens, 2 Apr. 2013, teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/expectations-and-alcohol.
[vi] “Short & Long-Term Effects of Alcohol – Negative Side Effects on the Body – Drug-Free World.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol/short-term-long-term-effects.html.
[vii] Jaslow, Ryan. “Survey: ‘Digital Peer Pressure’ Fueling Drug, Alcohol Use in High School Students.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 22 Aug. 2012, www.cbsnews.com/news/survey-digital-peer-pressure-fueling-drug-alcohol-use-in-high-school-students/.
[viii] Cialdani, Robert. “Social Proof.” Social Proof, 1984, changingminds.org/techniques/general/cialdini/social_proof.htm.
[ix] Marsi, Steve. “Gossip Girl: The Real Deal Report II.” TV Fanatic, TV Fanatic, 5 Oct. 2007, www.tvfanatic.com/2007/10/gossip-girl-the-real-deal-report-ii/.
[x] Committee on Public Education. “Children, Adolescents, and Television.” American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Feb. 2001, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/107/2/423.
[xi] “Buy Scannable Fake IDs.” Buy Scannable Fake IDs | Premiumfakes.com, premiumfakes.com/.
[xii] Idgod.ph, www.idgod.ph/.
[xiii] Martinez, Julia A, and Kenneth J Sher. “Methods of ‘Fake ID’ Obtainment and Use in Underage College Students.” Addictive Behaviors, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20359829.
[xiv] Stainburn, Samantha. “Forget Technology; It’s My Brother’s ID.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 July 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/education/edlife/25fakeid-t.html
[xv] Anonymous. Interview by Mary Kate Ausbrook. Personal Interview. Bloomington, December 9th, 2019.
[xvii] Anonymous. Interview by Mary Kate Ausbrook. Personal Interview. Bloomington, December 10th, 2019.
[xviii] “Premiumfakes.” Premiumfakes, premiumfakes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/new-ohio-fake-id-2-e1548610722687.jpg.
[xix] Friese, Bettina, et al. “Youth Acquisition of Alcohol and Drinking Contexts: an in-Depth Look.” Journal of Drug Education, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325988/.
[xxii] Cialdani, Robert. “Reciprocity.” Reciprocity, 1984, changingminds.org/techniques/general/cialdini/social_proof.htm.
Anonymous. Interview by Mary Kate Ausbrook. Personal Interview. Bloomington, December 9th, 2019.
Anonymous. Interview by Mary Kate Ausbrook. Personal Interview. Bloomington, December 10th, 2019.
Bellum, Sara. “Expectations and Alcohol: The Fun May Be in Your Head.” NIDA for Teens, 2 Apr. 2013, teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/expectations-and-alcohol.
“Buy Scannable Fake IDs.” Buy Scannable Fake IDs | Premiumfakes.com, premiumfakes.com/.
Cialdani, Robert. “Social Proof.” Social Proof, 1984, changingminds.org/techniques/general/cialdini/social_proof.htm.
Committee on Public Education. “Children, Adolescents, and Television.” American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Feb. 2001, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/107/2/423.
Friese, Bettina, et al. “Youth Acquisition of Alcohol and Drinking Contexts: an in-Depth Look.” Journal of Drug Education, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325988/.
Jaslow, Ryan. “Survey: ‘Digital Peer Pressure’ Fueling Drug, Alcohol Use in High School Students.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 22 Aug. 2012, www.cbsnews.com/news/survey-digital-peer-pressure-fueling-drug-alcohol-use-in-high-school-students/.
Kelly, Jon. “Why Fake ID Is an American Rite of Passage.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Apr. 2013, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21976718.
Marsi, Steve. “Gossip Girl: The Real Deal Report II.” TV Fanatic, TV Fanatic, 5 Oct. 2007, www.tvfanatic.com/2007/10/gossip-girl-the-real-deal-report-ii/.
Martinez, Julia A, and Kenneth J Sher. “Methods of ‘Fake ID’ Obtainment and Use in Underage College Students.” Addictive Behaviors, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20359829.
Norbeck, Edward, and Bobby C. Alexander. “Rite of Passage.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 11 June 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/rite-of-passage.
“Premiumfakes.” Premiumfakes, premiumfakes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/new-ohio-fake-id-2-e1548610722687.jpg.
“Short & Long-Term Effects of Alcohol – Negative Side Effects on the Body – Drug-Free World.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol/short-term-long-term-effects.html.
Stainburn, Samantha. “Forget Technology; It’s My Brother’s ID.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 July 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/education/edlife/25fakeid-t.html.
“Top 8 Reasons Why Teens Try Alcohol and Drugs.” Where Families Find Answers on Substance Use | Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 13 Feb. 2017, drugfree.org/parent-blog/top-8-reasons-teens-try-alcohol-drugs/.
Villarica, Hans. “The Fun of Being Drunk Is All in Your Head, Not the Bottle.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 May 2012, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/the-fun-of-being-drunk-is-all-in-your-head-not-the-bottle/256497/.