STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The underground market teens use to get fake ID has taken a sophisticated, and frightening, turn. Online ID mills overseas now churn out fake licenses so convincing that homeland security officials have taken notice.
So far, the most popular website for forgeries hasn't been able to crack the New York State driver's license, but mock-ups of other state IDs appear authentic down to the hologram, and are good enough to fool bar code scanners used by bouncers at clubs.
That website goes by the name "ID Chief," and it's something of an open secret among Staten Island teens and college students under the legal drinking age and looking to get into a bar.
Typically, it works like this: Teens visit the site, figure out which state they want to get a fake license from, and fill out an order from. They wire the cash, $200 for two IDs, less if they order as a group.
And four to six weeks later, the fake IDs arrive in the most innocuous of packages -- hidden inside a teapot, or a jewelry box, or tucked into the sole of a shoe.
"We heard about the website through a friend of ours who had already done it, so we trusted it," said one Staten Island 18-year-old, who got her ID when she was 17.
She got a Pennsylvania license, complete with a slightly off-color hologram. It's good enough to fool the barcode scanners used by bouncers. But lately, the bars on Staten Island have been getting wise to the scheme, especially when a group of young-looking patrons show up in a group, all carrying Pennsylvania drivers' licenses.
Best Equipment In Business The Printing We Id Card Have It's easier to fool the bouncers in Manhattan, though, since "people come from all over to the city."
Id Chief's not the only site out there - one college student described a similar operation in Canada that her classmates use. "Usually, they want you to send the money in a birthday card," she said.
The fake IDs come in the mail a few weeks later, hidden inside another birthday card.
James Murphy, the District Attorney in upstate Saratoga County, found out just how authentic the IDs look earlier this year after his office prosecuted 14 teens and one adult who bought a batch from ID Chief. "Without any question they pass through scanners," Murphy said. "The Department of Homeland Security guys looked at the IDs, they could pass the Northern border.
"TSA (Transportation Security Authority) also indicated that these IDs would also pass through their scanners," he said.
TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein didn't address specific questions about ID Chief or similar websites, but noted, "TSA takes identification authentication very seriously. The TSA document checkers at the checkpoints represent just one of 20 layers of security in place to keep the traveling public safe."
She added that the TSA earlier this year rolled out a pilot program for new scanner systems at airports to better detect faked boarding passes.
Department of Motor Vehicle officials in New York State say the fake ID websites have made it onto their radars.
"Yes, we are aware of fake ID's coming in to the U.S. from several foreign countries," said DMV spokeswoman Jackie McGinnis. "The interception of those IDs is a matter for law enforcement. On several occasions, DMV's Division of Field Investigations has been asked by various law enforcement agencies to participate in investigations where false driver licenses are suspected. Our role has been to help verify that the IDs are fake."
She noted that none of the forgeries involved in the Saratoga case were made to look like New York State licenses, adding, "New York has one of the most difficult licenses to duplicate in the country."
Murphy worried that teens looking to score a beer short-term might also find themselves in for a world of financial and identity theft problems down the road - "You have to provide a lot of real information, and then verify that you're not a police officer, and give your real date of birth."
One of the Saratoga defendants later found out someone had taken out a loan under his name, Murphy said.
Despite the busts in Saratoga County, ID Chief still seems to be up and running.
"Every thing is fine," wrote an unnamed administrator of the site, responding to a recent e-mail by an Advance reporter posing as a potential customer.
After describing the site's pricing plans, the e-mail continues, "FOR MONEY PART, Please send western union IN PERSON. Firstname=JUYING, lastname=XU, country=China. City if you are asked for it is Guangzhou."