Fraud is a global problem, and identity theft is on the rise. According to data from the FTC, financial losses accelerated from $1.8-billion in 2019 to $3.3-billion in 2020.

While this is a good estimate, the reality is financial losses due to identity fraud are far greater than those reported figures.

Fake IDs are the crux of the fraudster’s toolbox, and they feature in crimes like human trafficking, terrorism, and cybercrime.

Fake IDs are becoming harder to spot as fraudsters improve their techniques. ID document forgery is becoming more of a concern for businesses and private individuals across the globe.

You need to stay ahead of the fraudsters, and this guide to spotting a fake ID will stop you from becoming a victim of fraud and identity theft.


What are the Types of Fake IDs?

There are four types of fake IDs you need to watch out for in the market. Understanding the characteristics of these counterfeit IDs will help you spot them before the fraudster can use them to harm you or your business.


Forged Fake IDs

A forged ID is an ID document intentionally created by a fraudster to cover up their real identity. Forged IDs are available in two formats – front-forged IDs and front-and-back forgeries.

The front-forged IDs are challenging to spot from the front of the card. However, the barcode on the reverse side of the card doesn’t scan. The front-and-back forged ID card is harder to spot as the barcode scans and issues information.

Typically, front-forged ID cards provide stolen personal information of the original cardholder. They also feature seamless integration of the fraudster’s photo into the card.

However, as fraudsters improve their technology, more than 60% of fake IDs consist of front-and-back information that checks out under scrutiny.

A basic ID scanner can easily detect a fake barcode on a front-forged ID, but it has a harder time pointing out fake front-and-back forgeries.

“ID parsing” is the easiest and fastest way of identifying a fake ID with incorrect or no barcode information. However, it might not work in the case of well-designed front-and-back forgeries.

Borrowed IDs

Over 95% of fraud cases involving fake IDs are with “borrowed IDs.” Fraudsters will borrow IDs from their friends and copy them to use them for various fraudulent activities.

These fake IDs are popular with minors that want to use the ID to gain access to age-restricted venues or purchase age-restricted goods, like alcohol and tobacco.

These IDs are usually the easiest to spot. Check that the ID has rounded corners. If it’s square, then it’s a fake ID. These IDs will scan, but the person’s face or physical description won’t match the original cardholder.

If you suspect foul play, check for the state duplicate stamp. While a duplicate license doesn’t always mean you’re looking at a borrowed ID, it may provide a red flag in a suspicious situation.

Altered Fake IDs

Typically, an altered ID is a genuine ID of the fraudster featuring their photo but alterations to the information on the card.

Once again, it’s common for minors to alter this information to gain access to adult activities, like visiting a bar or club or purchasing alcohol or tobacco.

In most cases, altering the information on the card will also slightly change the ID’s surface texture and colors or the state-specific security features.

Stolen IDs

These IDs are stolen from the owner and used to commit crimes, usually online. However, some fraudsters use them in real-world applications as well.


How Do You Spot a Fake ID?

Business owners need to familiarize themselves with the features of ID cards to help them spot a fake. Here are the top features to check when you suspect you’re dealing with a fake ID.

Incorrect Cardholder Picture

If you scan the ID and the cardholder’s picture is not a match, you’re dealing with a fake ID.

Bad Lamination Jobs

Most states use professional laminates to seal the UV images and protect the card. If you suspect the card is fraudulent, bend it into a U-shape. Poor lamination jobs will separate from the card, while state-issued IDs won’t.

No Hologram

ID cards feature a hologram that’s visible when you hold it to the light. Know your state-specific hologram image to ensure you’re dealing with a real ID and not a fake.

No Embossing or Laser Perforations

Most state-issued ID cards feature tiny perforations that aren’t visible until you hold them up to a direct light source. The perorations form an image that is different for each state.

States also emboss the ID, raising the plastic on the face of the ID card. Laser embossing won’t alter the rear panel of the card, but you’ll notice it on the front of the card when running your fingers across the ID’s surface.

No UV Images

States will also include an image on the card that only shows up under UV light.


In Closing – What are the Legal Penalties for Stealing, Forging, or Carrying a Fake ID?

Fake IDs feature in all types of crimes, from something as innocent as a minor trying to get into a bar to something as severe as identity theft used in committing financial crimes.

In most cases of ID fraud, the authorities classify it as a misdemeanor offense. However, some states treat the manufacture or use of fake IDs as a serious offense. For instance, using it to purchase a gun.

In some states, possessing a fake ID is a felony, resulting in the filing of severe charges against the fraudster. Here are the three punishments you can expect for using a fake ID.

It’s important to note that these repercussions differ by state and the crime involved with the fraudulent activity.

Jail Time

If you commit a severe crime using a fake ID, you could face possible jail time. However, if the offense is a misdemeanor or the fraudster is a first-time offender, they might escape this punishment.

Fraudsters charged with a misdemeanor for using a fake ID could spend anywhere from 90-days to 1-year in jail. The sentence depends on state law and the severity of the crime.

Felony fake ID offenses may result in the offender’s incarceration for periods up to 10-years.


It’s more common for fraudsters to face a fine, especially if they are a first-time offender. Fines for misdemeanors associated with fake IDs are usually between $500 and $1,000. A fine associated with a felony offense may cost the fraudster up to $100,000.


Along with fines, many first-time fraudsters will receive probation. Typically, probation periods are 12-months or longer, as set by the court.

Failing to comply with probation conditions may allow the court to extend the probation period or impose jail time on the offender.