Plenty of businesses sell souvenir ID cards. For a price, you can pretend you're from Tennessee if you like. But why are people buying these novelty items?
When Toronto police busted the ID Shack on Yonge Street last summer, three people were charged with a variety of forgery offences and the concept of a ‘novelty ID card’ was explained in news stories on the arrests. Walk down Yonge Street today and you can still find businesses that advertise these kinds of cards. For a price, you can pretend you’re from Tennessee if you like. The National Post‘s Carolyn Turgeon asks, and answers, several questions about these cards.
Q. What is the purpose of these novelty IDs?
A. Well, ask any store owner and they will immediately tell you these items are made as souvenirs only. Who doesn’t want their face on an identification card for some random state? But a fake could easily be mistaken as legitimate by an untrained bouncer’s eye and could allow underage youths to enter clubs and other establishments. And a false identity could accomplish even more.
Q. How much do they cost?
A. In a small tattoo shop on Yonge Street, novelty IDs are sold for $45, a price that includes an authentic-looking, though false, university ID, perfect for those who need a second piece of identification to convince a bartender they are of legal drinking age. The man behind the counter said I could buy an ID for my younger sister, and she would have the added bonus of a university card. Later, he was insistent that it was 100% a souvenir and nothing like government-issued cards. A drug paraphernalia shop farther north on Yonge sells a single novelty ID for $50. The owner said her store does not sell to anyone under 18, but if a parent comes in wanting ID for their children — and it has happened, she said — they make the cards immediately.
Q. Why are these shops allowed to operate?
A. Const. Wendy Drummond of Toronto Police Services said usually these IDs aren’t being sold with illegal intent and, until they are, police have no reason to investigate the proprietor. “When it becomes criminal is when people use them for illegal purposes,” said Const. Drummond. She compared the situation to clothing stores that have been criticized for selling hoodies that shield the identity of the wearer, a useful garment if the wearer commits a crime.
Q. What did ID Shack do to warrant a bust?
A. Though Const. Drummond said officers will check in on stores like this occasionally, they don’t require a full investigation unless the police receive information about a particular location. Police allege that ID Shack not only sold IDs, but also had a website set up at which customers could design and order cards, with options for fake credentials. “They were identities of real people who didn’t know their ID was being used,” said Const. Drummond. “[When that happens], we have intent.”
Q. What sort of criminal activity can fake IDs be used for?
A. To begin with, any forgery of an identity is fraud. And clearly a youngster with an adult ID is in no way legal. Const. Drummond said individuals with fake IDs can impersonate, obtain bank accounts under their false persona and obtain fake documents. The fake bank accounts and IDs allow them to purchase whatever they like without officials tracing it back to them, especially on the Internet.
Q. What makes official IDs official?
A. According to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, identification must be government-issued, be current and include the person’s photograph and birth date. When checking ID, the commission suggests feeling for extra thickness around the photo and the edge of the lamination, in case the photo has been replaced and the card re-laminated. It also advises checking for inconsistency in letters and numbers in case of alteration. With the Ontario driver’s licence, there are multiple indicators of legitimacy: ultraviolet inks and logos, raised lettering on the licence number and date of birth, a holographic secondary photo and signature, a bar code and, on newer ones, an “Age 19” banner. More subtly, the licence number starts with the first letter of the last name, the 9th and 10th number are the same as the last two numbers of the person’s birth year and the last two numbers are their date of birth. The ID shack, pre-bust, allegedly advertised forgery of some of these features on their fake North American IDs, which helped lead to their arrest.
Q. And do the novelty ID cards available in stores today on Yonge Street come close to resembling an Ontario driver’s licence?
A. No, but there are novelty IDs from other provinces and various states. That makes life difficult for club bouncers, who likely don’t know what a South Dakota driver’s licence, for example, looks like. And it can be especially difficult to verify when they’re being shown a matching photo on a local university ID card.