Photos by Alex Zamora.

It only took 30 seconds for the blond-haired bombshell ready for her night on the town to go from batting her mascaraed eyelashes to looking like she was going to rip someone’s head off.

On a Wednesday night around 11:30 p.m., Dan*, a part-time bouncer at club Motiv on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, is about to confiscate another fake ID, his second of the night.

He sinks his eyes into the California driver’s “license” seeing if it matches the puppy face of the girl who looks to be in her late teens. Then he asks for a credit card.

“I don’t bring credit cards out, but I might have something else,” she said, fumbling through her purse. Dan goes back to eyeing the ID.

“What’s your address? How do you spell the last name? What’s your weight? What’s your height?” he said, having asked the same questions hundreds of times before.

The girl answers correctly, but Dan comes to a grim conclusion.

“Sorry,” Dan said. He pockets the ID.

“Are you serious… ” the girl replies and storms off.

For young adults under 21 using fake IDs this scene is a nightmare. Many spend anywhere from 50 to a few hundred dollars on fakes only to lose them in the blink of an eye. Others desperately borrow their over-21 friends or relatives’ IDs only to have them swiped in a second.

But losing an ID is the least of anyone’s worries. Getting caught by the police with false identification can result in a request to appear in court. Producing a fake ID is a felony punishable with jail time. Businesses found guilty of negligence while monitoring IDs risk losing their alcohol licenses, putting the entire business at risk.

Following Dan’s confiscation, Brooke, a bartender from San Francisco, who witnessed the exchange, gets up from her barstool and walks over.

“She would have fought for it if it was hers,” Brooke said, checking out the card over the bouncer’s shoulder. “Her friends booked it too.”

Club president Mike Pitt said Motiv has collected a few hundred fake IDs since its inception a few years ago. Photo by Alex Zamora.
Club president Mike Pitt said Motiv has collected a few hundred fake IDs since its inception a few years ago. Photo by Alex Zamora.

Protecting the Business

At a booth inside Motiv, Mike Pitt, president of the business, shows the bar’s fake ID collection. Sliding about a dozen across the table he says, “Seriously, this is like a weekend,” referring to the time span in which they were collected.

Since Motiv was founded, its security guards have impounded over a hundred fake IDs. Confiscating a fake removes it from the market so that it cannot be reused. This keeps minors out of bars and protects the businesses’ liquor licenses.

“We’ve had people try three times, where we take [their fake ID] and they go get another, we take it, they go get another one, we take it and they go get another one, we take it again,” Pitt said.

Dan, who monitors Motiv’s doors part time, said he takes about three to five fakes per night.

Dan determines whether or not an ID is fake based on training he received in a LEAD (License Education on Alcohol and Drugs) workshop, which is put on by the Alcohol and Beverage Control state department (ABC). All businesses distributing alcohol are required to have their employees trained in LEAD. LEAD workshops are open to the public, but they require a reservation.

Seemingly unmoved by the attractive women carrying fakes that night, Dan said, “I’m not going to have my emotions dictate what I do when I work… I don’t mind taking the ID. People’s paychecks are on the line. When you are checking that ID, you have to make sure it’s real, because if it’s fake and you let them in, we can get in big trouble.”

Motiv has not had problems with ABC, but Pitt explained the potential losses.

“I wedged my entire financial life into this business … to make [Motiv] happen… and with that, all the time and emotion,” he said. “It took seven months of politics, basically. And now that it’s happened, it’s my baby — I don’t want to let it go.”


When the Santa Cruz Police Department comes across what it thinks is a fake ID, officers attempt to verify the owner’s identification by cross-referencing the DMV’s data base. Since September of last year the SCPD has had six incidences involving false identification.

“The problem is probably more serious than our stats reflect,” said Kevin Vogel, Santa Cruz deputy police chief. “I’m guessing we are catching only a fraction of those using fakes.”

When police catch someone using a fake ID, they will issue a misdemeanor, which requires the person to appear in court.

While SCPD can use the DMV database to match a person’s face with a U.S. ID, the options are limited when confirming the ID of someone from outside the country.

“In that case, we accept the ID at face value,” he said. “And if we don’t believe the person is who they say they are, then we book them in the county jail.”

Four nights a week, an SCPD employee in charge of alcohol control systematically visits the 200 or so businesses in town that have liquor licenses. Reports of underage drinking go to ABC, which has the authority to refuse to reissue a liquor license. The legal division of ABC decides on a case-by-case basis whether or not to reissue off-sale liquor licenses (places where alcohol is sold but not served, such as CVS) and on-sale licenses (businesses that serve alcohol, such as Woodstock’s), if the business’ license is in jeopardy.

“If he goes into a bar and he sees someone who doesn’t look 21, he will just go up to him and ask for identification,” Vogel said about the SCPD officer who monitors the county’s liquor licenses. “If the person is in violation, the business will be investigated as to why this person was allowed to go inside.”

Under 21

After growing up in France, where the minimum age to purchase alcohol is 18, Cindy* had a hard time adjusting to the U.S. law that forbids anyone under 21 from consuming or buying alcohol. A UCSC alumna, Cindy* — who said she became the “fake go-to girl” — told her story via e-mail.

“It was very frustrating to not be able to drink freely and for it to be so controlled,” Cindy said in the e-mail. “Whether or not to acquire a fake wasn’t even the question. It was more like, how, and how soon? I even knew an Australian guy who lived in the ILC who got his fake before coming to the UC. Talk about preparation.”

Cindy helped her ex-boyfriend get his $10 to $15 fake through a website based in England.

“The only loop we had to jump through was that it had to be sent to a non-American address, which is where my mom comes in,” Cindy said in the e-mail. “We sent the card to her in Paris, and she knowingly forwarded it to me. The card was fake as fuck.”

Despite the card not looking very authentic, “It worked in most places,” Cindy said in the e-mail. “I got one for myself a little later, and obviously being over six feet helps you out in appearing older, so my overall experience with it was fine.”

Cindy explained the different ways people deal with the drinking law in the U.S.

“The drinking law in the U.S. is so absurd that we all have our way of dealing with it,” she said. “Some decide that drinking is not for them, and that their first drink will be a legal drink. Some rely on older friends to supply them with alcohol. Others, like me, decide to brave the law and go for a drink.”

*Name has been changed.