How to Spot a Fake ID UK

In the UK, it is illegal to serve alcohol to anybody below the age of 18. Not only can underage drinking have serious consequences for the young people involved, it can also carry terrible repercussions for the venue supplying controlled substances to minors. For example, if it happens too often, the venue may be forcibly closed.

Contrary to popular belief, British law does not require most venues to check ID upon entry. A venue’s management may decide whether it wants ID to be checked at the door or at the bar, which is their right.

Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks (a longer line at the door may put people off, while a longer wait at the bar may cause people to spend less time – and/or money – in the establishment). However, in either circumstance, it is likely that, as a security operative, you will be asked to verify a patron’s ID at some point.

Unsurprisingly, the manufacture and sale of false identity documents is big business and, as such, there are a lot of them out there. Many are purchased online and are therefore difficult for authorities to control. In such a situation, it is especially important that door supervisors are as vigilant as they are diligent in their examination of potentially false IDs.

In this feature, we’ll explain what the law says about ID, as well as what constitutes a valid form of identification. We’ll also detail a few methods for spotting fake IDs and explain what to do when you find one.

Valid Forms of ID

According to British law, acceptable forms of ID include a valid passport (either from the UK or another country), a valid driver’s license, or a proof of age card (such as a CitizenCard, or a PASS card from the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme).

CitizenCards and PASS cards are not accepted by all venues, but every venue will accept valid driver’s licenses and passports.

The whole point of an ID check is to verify that the patron is

  1. a) who they say they are, and
  1. b) legally an adult (and therefore able to imbibe alcohol).

The most common form of ID in the UK is the driver’s license. These are issued to every person who is legally able to drive a car. A driver’s license will list the person’s date of birth and include their photograph. A provisional driver’s license is also acceptable.

Technically, an expired driver’s license is not a valid form of ID. However, in cases wherein the patron is clearly and unambiguously old enough to enter the venue and/or drink alcohol, they can still be accepted. In such cases, it’s at the discretion of the DS in question.

Passports are also a commonly used form of identification. The kind of passports issued in 2006 and 2010, as well as anything after that, are acceptable as ID (anything before that will have expired). As with driver’s licenses, expired passports are not acceptable in most cases, but you can take certain cases on their merits if the owner of the passport is clearly old enough to drink.

Some patrons will attempt to present a letter with their name and address on it as a form of ID. This is not considered a valid ID, as it does not contain a photograph and you therefore have no proof of identification, all you know for sure is that the patron is in possession of a letter detailing their name and address.

Others still will present a scan copy or photograph of their passport. This is also not considered a valid form of ID, as its authenticity cannot be verified.

Sometimes, patrons will become upset at being denied entry to the venue, especially if they have companions already inside or that have been allowed in ahead of them.

Many people object to being forced to always carry ID with them, seeing it as a violation of their civil liberties. Others simply may not have the money to apply for driver’s licenses and passports or may have misplaced their documents.

Sadly, in all cases stated above, the patron in question must be denied entry. Denying entry to a customer that has done nothing wrong can be a very difficult thing to do, but in this case, it’s part of the job. All you can do is explain the situation to them (i.e., that legally it is not a valid ID and that you cannot allow them access as a result) and be understanding. Make it clear that your actions are not based on any personal bias, but simply an enforcement of the law and that, should they return with the correct documentation, you’ll be glad to let them in. It’s never good for business to turn a customer away unhappy.

It’s important to note that, while not valid forms of ID, none of these documents are to be considered false or counterfeit – and they are not to be confiscated or damaged in any way.

Some patrons may claim to have left their ID inside the venue. While this has the potential to be true, it probably isn’t. Nevertheless, it’s worth radioing a colleague and asking them to search for it. Under no circumstances should the patron be allowed inside to look for it themselves.

False Documents

As far as UK law is concerned, there are 5 types of false documents. These are as follows.

  • A genuine document that is being used by someone besides its owner.
  • A genuine document that has been altered for any reason.
  • A genuine document that has been obtained through an act of fraud.
  • A false document that is a copy of a genuine document.
  • A false document that looks genuine but is of a kind that does not actually exist.

Some examples of this last kind might include a ‘provisional motorcycle license’ (this is a popular type of fake ID that appears to be genuine, even though no such license exists) or a ‘UK National Identification Card’ (also not a real document).

You might also encounter passports or drivers’ licenses that have had their photographs or other information doctored. Some of these can be surprisingly convincing.

Additionally, the Internet is full of sites that can provide users with credible templates of various documents that can be used by forgers. A would-be forger with enough time and decent Photoshop skills can create a fairly believable document, so it’s important to keep your wits about you at all times.

Are Fake IDs Illegal?

Fake IDs are indeed illegal. In the UK, the creation and use of counterfeit identification is covered by several laws, most prominently the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, the Fraud Act 2006 and the Identity Documents Act 2010.

The Forgery and Counterfeiting Act makes it illegal to knowingly create false documents with the intent of using, selling or otherwise disseminating them. It also deals with the forgery of currency.

The Fraud Act defines false representation (such as the use of a fake ID) as a form of fraud.

The Identity Documents Act, for its part, formally defines what is meant by the term ‘identity documents’, essentially describing what can and cannot be considered valid ID. It also makes possession of fake identity documents an offence punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 or a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Such punishment will likely not apply to a person who is unknowingly using a fake ID, but this would be very hard to prove in court.

PASS Cards

The Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) is the government’s preferred method of verifying a person’s age. It has also been fully endorsed by the SIA, the police, and several trade bodies and looks similar to an SIA licence. Essentially, a PASS card is an ID card that contains all the same data that a passport or a driver’s license would have but is cheaper to obtain and easier to replace if lost.

A lot of people don’t like to bring their passports out with them for fear of losing them or having them stolen. This can be a problem if the passport is their only form of ID, as they will usually be turned away at the door for lack of ID, despite being old enough to enter the venue.

A PASS card, then, is a totally valid form of ID that does not rely on the person being able to afford a driver’s license or passport. PASS cards feature a distinctive hologram that displays the word ‘PASS’ (appropriately enough). If this, along with the person’s photograph and date of birth is in order, the likelihood is that the patron is on the level and should be allowed access to the venue.

‘Challenge 25’

Alcohol abuse in the UK is a massive problem. In 2016, this country was ranked as the world’s 24th most alcohol consumptive country on a list that included 189 nations.

While a more comprehensive strategy for combatting underage drinking might be for adults to lead by example and stop drinking to excess in the first place, the fact remains that many underage people also drink heavily in this country.

Because of this, in 2005, then Home Secretary Charles Clarke called together a collective of prominent alcohol retailers to form the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG), which immediately began trying to determine exactly how underage people were obtaining alcohol in such large quantities.

RASG’s data suggested that, in many cases, under-18s were simply going into supermarkets and off-licenses and buying drinks just like any other customer would.

Retail staff, it was discovered, had a hard time determining a customer’s age by sight alone, especially as many younger people can appear to be older than they are. The staff were also fearful of confrontation and/or causing offence, and so often set aside their doubts about the customers’ age to avoid causing a fuss.

Armed with this information, RASG launched its ‘Challenge 21’ initiative a year later. In 2009, ‘Challenge 21’ was replaced by ‘Challenge 25’. In either case, the bartender or retailer is expected to challenge anyone they think may be under the stated age to produce ID before making their purchase. This compelled retail staff to challenge customers more often, but also gave them crucial backing whenever they did so.

Retailers who joined the initiative were offered training in conflict resolution, while managers were trained to stand behind, not overrule, any employees making the challenge.

The ‘Challenge 25’ initiative has yielded some positive results, cutting down on the sale of alcohol to underage people by an impressive amount.

However, it has also caused 65% of retail workers to be subjected to abuse from customers due to the workers asking for ID or refusing to serve them.

An argument can also be made that it is unfair to put retail staff, who are already common targets for abuse from the public, in a position of having to confront customers in such a manner.

The scheme also unfairly penalises law-abiding customers who don’t have access to, or simply do not wish to carry, ID (something which is not a crime). This, in turn, creates an unavoidable social policy of citizens always carrying ID, despite no democratic vote being taken on the subject.

In addition, according to RASG’s own data, 74% of underage drinkers will simply gain access to alcohol at home, from their parents’ stores.

‘Challenge 25’ has succeeded at least as far as cutting off one of the youth’s main methods of gaining alcohol, but underage drinking is still a huge problem and, with retailers issuing so many challenges, it makes sense that the number of fake IDs in circulation would be on the rise as well.

How to Spot a Fake ID

There are many ways to spot a fake ID. Even the best ones aren’t perfect. There’s always something that gives them away. It’s just a question of finding it.

The first thing to look out for is whether the ID feels somehow different to the others you’ve handled. Human hands are extremely sensitive, containing some 1300 nerve endings per 6.5CM of skin. It has even been proven scientifically that human hands can detect even a few molecules’ difference between objects or surfaces.

So, if the ID feels somehow rougher, thicker, lighter, bumpier, heavier, or floppier than usual, it may require closer examination.

The colours may also seem slightly wrong, perhaps a shade too dull or too bright. While this could be due to something like bleaching by the sun or general wear and tear, it could also mark the document out as a fake.

Regarding the photo, be sure to pay attention to the patron’s forehead and chin. A valid British passport could be as much as 10 years old, so it’s likely that, in such cases, the patron’s appearance may have changed considerably during this time.

People’s hairstyles change, as does the colour and amount of hair they have. They gain and lose weight, grow, and remove facial hair, even get plastic surgery, piercings or facial tattoos. The appearance of the forehead and chin, however, remains basically consistent throughout a person’s life. If you want to make a positive identification, those are the areas to study.

What follows are a few tell-tale signs specific to certain types of fake ID.

i)   A Fake Driver’s License May be Identified by:

  • A flag image that is incorrect, or noticeably different to others you’ve seen.
  • Unusual wording, especially at the top of the card itself.
  • Writing in a language that isn’t the official language of the ID’s country of origin (e.g., Russian writing on a British document).
  • A background that appears unusually simplistic compared to the others you’ve seen.
  • The lack of a signature.
  • The lack of an actual hologram.
  • Data appearing in the wrong places.   

ii) A Fake Passport May be Identified by:

  • An impossible expiry date (for example, in 20 years’ time).
  • Obvious tampering (such as attempts to write on or over key pieces of information, or a photograph added to the surface of the card).
  • Too many, or too few, pages.
  • A lack of holograms.
  • Images or pieces of information that are out of place.
  • The lack of a passport chip.


iii)  A Fake PASS Card May be Identified by:

  • A hologram or photograph that has been attached to the plastic and is therefore not part of it.
  • A hologram that looks different from the others you’ve seen.
  • An impossible date of birth (for example, a date stating the owner to be in their 40’s or 50’s when they obviously are not).
  • A photograph that appears different to the patron holding the card (remember the forehead and chin).
  • Obvious signs of tampering.
  • A surface that feels rougher than it should.

It is also worth paying attention to the patron who handed you the ID and, if you have doubts, even questioning them.

Although they may at first be slightly taken aback by the question, most people are able to easily reel off details such as their name and date of birth without too much trouble. If you doubt the validity of a person’s ID, you can always ask them to confirm their date of birth and see if it matches the information they’ve given you. Many patrons wielding false IDs do not actually know what their documents say off-by-heart, so this can be an easy way to catch them out.

Finally, you can also ask the patron to show you another card from their purse or wallet. You must not handle any of these, but if the patron is who they say they are, they should have other cards (e.g., bank cards, library cards, gym memberships, store cards etc) bearing the same name as their ID.

What happens if you get caught with a Fake ID

There are a few different things that could happen if you get caught with a fake ID. The consequences depend on the severity of the offense and where you are caught.

If you are caught using a fake ID to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products, you may be fined up to £5,000 and/or receive a prison sentence of up to 10 years. In addition, any establishments that you use the fake licence at could be fined up to £5,000 or have to voluntarily close for up to 48 hours.

If you are caught using a fraudulent ID to purchase alcoholic drinks, the fine may be up to £5,000 and you might face ten years in jail. It is also illegal to sell alcohol to anybody under the age of 18 and can result in a maximum penalty of £10,000 or premises being shut down.

If you are caught using a fake ID to get into a bar or club, the consequences can be more severe. The security on the door may confiscate your ID and ask you to leave. You may also be put on a list of people who are not allowed to enter the premises in the future.

So, as you can see, the consequences for getting caught with a fake ID depend on what you were using it for. If you were using it for something minor, like buying alcohol, you may just get a warning. However, if you were using it for something more serious, like trying to get into a bar or club when you’re not old enough, the consequences can be more severe. So be careful if you decide to use a fake ID!

What Should you Do If you're Given a Fake ID?

A DS has the power to confiscate contraband upon discovery. Since false documents are illegal, they may be confiscated. Should the patron refuse to hand the document back, you may threaten them with a police investigation. In rare, extreme cases (if, for example, the patron has become violent), they may be detained until the police arrive.

However, a fake ID may only be confiscated if it is discovered within the venue and only then if said venue has a confiscation policy in place. If it is identified as a fake outside the venue, then it remains the legal property of the patron and must be returned to them (ideally with a warning about the penalties for owning such documents).

In most cases, the proper procedure would be to confiscate the ID and politely escort the patron from the premises (using reasonable force only where necessary). The ID should then be kept in a safe, secure place alongside any other contraband, before finally being handed to the police. The entire event should then be logged in the venue’s incident book.

We advise all venues to put up signs explaining the consequences of carrying and trying to use false identification. This can help in situations that end up before a court.

Finally, a lot of people using fake IDs are young and inexperienced. Often, it pays to be tough, but fair. You may wish to explain to them that their transgression is not simply a ‘victimless crime’ but could see the entire venue closed and the people who work there unemployed. In addition, the patron could face a hefty fine, as well as up to a decade in prison, or else they could come to harm from drinking at a young age.

A lot of times, using a fake ID is simply a youthful mistake and a few well-chosen words can see to it that it never happens again.

By drinking to excess so often, Britain’s adults are at least partly to blame for our young people drinking as they do – and seeing imbibing alcohol as such a desirable practice that they are willing to break the law in order to do it. When the role models are this irresponsible, it doesn’t seem fair to penalise the children beyond a certain point.