By Ruty Korotaev
Walking along Yonge Street, just off the Ryerson University campus, 20-year-old Denis* points out a shady little convenience store, where he got his first fake ID. The small store on Yonge and Gerrard streets is one of many places near Ryerson that sells fake IDs. It cost him $60 and he used it for a grand total of five times, though it only worked once. “I was in a sketchy place where I showed it, and they just glanced at it and let me go. I think I could have given them a credit card and they would have let me come in,” says Denis.
Like many other young adults entering university, Denis felt tempted to get a fake ID so he would have the freedom to go out to bars and clubs. Prices for fake IDs typically range from around $30-80, depending on where you buy it from. Many of these places have small, discrete signs that advertise fake ID or “novelty cards.” However, some places are more open about this service than others. In fact, right across from Ryerson’s Student Learning Centre (SLC), there are multiple bright yellow signs that advertise fakes with the “best price in town.” The average passerby would probably not give much notice to this, but to 18-year-olds who are desperate to go clubbing with their friends, this could be the opening to a whole new (drunk) world.
Underaged drinking has long been a staple of the Canadian youth experience. Even though we don’t have to wait as long to drink legally as our counterparts in the United States, Canadian teens and young adults still find themselves tempted to get a fake ID. According to statistics by Teen Challenge Canada, 83 per cent of Grade 12 students in Ontario have admitted to consuming alcohol. Based on responses from Grade 11 drinkers in Ontario, the average age of first exposure to alcohol was 13 years, while the average age for their first intoxicated experience was 14. With so many underage drinkers, I set out to find how students get fakes and whether or not it’s worth the risk.
Out of curiosity, I decided to follow the bright yellow signs on Ryerson’s campus that advertised fake IDs. As someone who is over 19 and never had a fake ID, I felt that I needed to see for myself what this experience is like, so I went undercover to see just how easy it is to get one. I came across a small trailer across from the SLC where two guys were very eager to make an ID for me. The place resembled more of a hut, and inside the trailer was a desk and a tiny blue square hanging on the wall that served as the background for people’s pictures. I had to fill out an information form that asked for my name, birthday, eye and hair colour, among other things. The first name that came to mind was Regina Phalangee, mostly because I’ve been watching way too many Friends episodes, so I wrote that as my fake name and said that I was born in 1995.
I could have chosen from a list of about 10 places … but for some reason, they recommended I get one from Saskatchewan because apparently those have a higher success rate.
They told me to stand in front of the square, which was strategically hung close to the miniscule window that gave some semblance of natural light into the otherwise completely dark room. As they were taking my picture with an old Nikon camera, they kept saying things like, “Wow, you’re going to break some boy’s hearts tonight?” to which I just smiled and nodded, and tried not to appear as grossed out as I felt. I then had to choose where I wanted Regina Phalangee to be from. I could have chosen from a list of about 10 places, including Ohio, Manitoba and Quebec, but for some reason, they recommended I get one from Saskatchewan because apparently those have a higher success rate, though they did not explain why. The entire process took about five minutes, but they told me I had to wait almost two hours in order to get my card, and would need to pay $60 cash upon receiving it. Obviously a place selling fakes wouldn’t take a credit card. For the record: I did not actually go to get the card, because I am of age and mostly went for the experience, which to be honest, left me feeling very skeeved out after all the weird comments from the owners.
Maya Churilov, 20, is a third-year law and business student at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management who has been a bartender and server for almost three years. Churilov received her smart serve certification at the age of 18, and though she was not able to consume the alcohol, she was able to serve and distribute it after checking IDs.
When it comes to checking people’s ID, she typically follows the rule that if the person looks 30 and under, she would ask for a piece of identification. Despite the fact that she was not legal herself, she said it was both a fun and slightly weird experience having to ID people who are clearly much older than her. “You really never know, some people could look older and they’re not, and some people could look younger than they really are—it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” says Churilov. From her experience, people who have foreign identification are more susceptible to being questioned about their ID, because so many fake IDs are from different provinces and states. She recommends that everyone, especially people with foreign IDs, carry around at least two pieces of identification, in case they are questioned. The punishment for serving or providing alcohol to minors begins at a minimum of a $500 fine.
As a server, she has occasionally encountered people trying to use fakes in order to buy alcohol. Churilov says that people often use their real IDs, but scratch out the number that their birth year ends in, to make it look like they are older. However, during her smart serve certification training, she learned that most driver’s licenses have holographic images that have the person’s real birthdate. Another thing that most bartenders and servers are required to know is how various IDs are supposed to look like from different provinces, since the majority of fakes are from provinces outside of Ontario.
“They were all going out and I just felt it was so unfair that I couldn’t join them.”
As for the people who use the real identification cards of older friends or siblings, she has tricks for verifying the legitimacy of that too. “One thing that really gets people is asking them to do their signature the same way that it is on the license,” says Churilov, who ironically used to use a friend’s ID. “A lot of people who are using fakes will memorize all of the information including the address and the postal code, but they will never memorize the signature. People think that no one will care enough to pull out a paper and pen and make them sign—but they do.”
Churilov actually witnessed this herself on a night out when she was in first year. Her friend, who was using a real ID she purchased from someone who looked like her, was asked to do the same signature that was on the card. Since she was unable to, she was not allowed to get into the club. Churilov quickly learned from her friend’s mistake, and immediately learned how to do the exact signature that was on her own fake ID, jokingly saying she treated this like it was her “job.” This turned out to be in her favour when she went to a concert that was a 19 plus event—Churilov managed to get through two security guards and a bartender before being questioned by another security guard who asked to look at her ID. Churilov says that the overly-cautious security guard did not believe that it was her ID, and starting questioning her about the information on the card, all of which Churilov had meticulously memorized. The guard ended up pulling out a piece of paper and a pen, and asked her to redo her signature.
“I did the signature perfectly, like right on. They saw that the signature was identical to the one on the card, so they couldn’t say anything else to me and let me go through,” laughed Churilov.
Denis got his first fake ID in the summer before starting university, when he was still 17, from that small convenience store at Yonge and Gerrard streets. His friends were getting one and he decided to get one as well, thinking that this would be of use to him since he has a late birthday. Like many first-year students, Denis was going to be away from home for the first time, and wanted to take advantage of his new-found freedom, without letting his lack of legality get in his way.
The process of getting an identification card was quick and easy. “You just go to the back, fill out some information. I think I made up a fake name and fake location, and then they just took my picture and that was it,” says Denis. “I just paid up the $60 and I had my ID.” He says there were a variety of places where his ID could be from, including ones from various U.S. states, but Denis opted to get one from Vancouver.
In hindsight, Denis says this was a “bad investment” and “a serious waste of money,” since he really did not make much use of it during his nights out. “The amount of money I spent versus the value I got out of it—it just wasn’t a good purchase,” says Denis. After giving up on using his fake ID, he chose to use his older brother’s real ID which he says was much more effective. He was able to get into clubs and bars with his brother’s ID, because he looks a lot like him.
“It’s part of your university experience, aside from getting a good education is having a good social life, and oftentimes entering clubs or drinking is part of that.
“I think instead of spending money to get a fake ID, the smartest option would be to find someone who looks like you, or at least your pictures look alike, and use their real ID,” says Denis. “It’s the best way to go, it’s what actually worked for me consistently with little to no questioning.” Though he no longer needs a fake ID, he thinks that businesses that create false identification documents rip off a lot of adolescents, charging them a lot of money for ID cards that rarely work.
Denis also says that the fact that Ontario’s legal drinking age is 19 also does not help, because while a lot people drink in high school, many are especially more tempted to do so as a university student. “I think that’s crazy—when you’re 16 you can operate a vehicle, when you’re 18 you can serve in the army but you have to be 19 to drink? I don’t see the logic in that,” says Denis. “It’s part of your university experience, aside from getting a good education is having a good social life, and oftentimes entering clubs or drinking is part of that. To tell someone they can’t enter a club or drink, people are going to try to overcome that.”
Sitting in the lobby of the Rogers Communications Centre, Alex Cohen*, a second-year creative industries student talks about her negative experiences with having a fake ID. She was able to legally drink as of October 2017, but before that, she used her older sister’s expired driver’s license and tried many times to pass it off as herself. Even though she was using her sister’s real ID, she was still unable to have it pass as her ID when she was trying to get into clubs and bars, despite the fact that the
y look very similar. Though this form of fake ID is typically considered to be the most effective, her experience shows that this is definitely not a foolproof plan.
She began using her sister’s ID the summer before university, when she was still 17, and since she has a late birthday, she tried to use it until she turned 19 in second year. Unfortunately for her, it was never accepted by anyone in Toronto, and she was only able to use it while she was travelling in Italy during the summer before starting university. “It worked really well when I was travelling, because they literally don’t care at all in Europe,” she says. Many European cities allow you to drink below the legal age if accompanied by an adult or being served with a meal.
She was 17 at the beginning of first year, and many of her friends were already 19, since some of them took a gap year after high school. “They were all going out and I just felt it was so unfair that I couldn’t join them.” As a commuter student, she was afraid that she would not get as many chances to go out at night because of her long commute to Thornhill, Ont. However, she befriended many people who lived on residence, and was able to stay over with them whenever she was going out late.
The first time she ever used her sister’s ID was when she was trying to get into Grace O’Malley’s Pub in first year. However, she did not study the information that was on her sister’s ID card before showing it to the bouncer, as she was supposed to. The bouncer asked her a pretty simply question—what her age was—and she froze, and guessed an age. “He literally just handed me back the card, and said no,” she says. “My sister and I also have different coloured eyes, so the whole time he was talking to me, I kept trying to look away and cover my face, which probably didn’t help my case.” If the bouncer had decided to take action, she could have been charged with identity fraud, fined and gone to prison for a maximum of five years for using her sister’s ID.
However, despite her somewhat negative experience using her fake ID, she still believes that what she did was a much better option than going out and getting an actual fake ID card. “If you don’t mess up the questions like I did, you’ll probably get in without any problems,” she says.
Denis sits with a beer at Ryerson’s campus pub, Ram in the Rye. Though he has been legal for over a year now, he never takes it for granted that he is able to use his real ID when he wants to order a drink, and not be questioned every time he does so.
“The legal age to be an adult is 18, so I think a lot of people feel like they should be entitled to make decisions for themselves, and be able to purchase alcohol at the age of 18 as well,” says Churilov. “People just get tempted with that—you’re officially an adult but you are still restricted in what you can and cannot do. I feel like a lot of people don’t really take well to that and choose to get fake IDs instead of waiting for their 19th birthday.”
Denis recalls the first time he used his real ID when he went out for his nineteenth birthday, and the feeling of freedom that came along with being able to order a drink with his real ID. He had a great feeling of relief knowing that he no longer has to worry about his ID being accepted and will never have to forego a night of clubbing for a night of binge watching Netflix. Denis had to wait until the beginning of second year to be able to legally drink, and through all of the issues he had with his various fake IDs, he’s glad he can finally throw them all out.
*Names have been omitted and changed respectively to protect anonymity.