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Knowledge Base » Business » How to Spot a Fake ID UK

How to Spot a Fake ID UK

Last updated on 25th April 2023

A freedom of information release has revealed that nearly 2,000 fraudulent identity documents are presented to Border Force staff per year, totalling 21,256 between 2010 to 2020. Statistics from identity document verification service Trusted ID showed that passports formed the largest group of fake documents found during checks, followed by ID cards.

Types of fake documents they identified in 2020 included:

  • Passports 44%.
  • ID cards 28%.
  • Biometric residence permits (BRP) 13%.
  • Visas 13%.

The recruitment sector continues to find a significant proportion of the total fake documents that Trusted ID see; in 2017, recruitment agencies accounted for 19% of all fraudulent documents, whilst in 2018, they made up 22%. In fact, recruitment, construction and payroll/umbrella services have been the highest referring sectors for the past two years.

The London Borough of Sutton together with the Metropolitan Police conducted a six-month trial of IDScan equipment to challenge ID offered to retailers, bars and clubs following disappointing test purchasing results at these premises.

The results were as follows:

  • 7,200 age challenges were made.
  • 2,200 age challenges were made where ID was volunteered.
  • 109 underage alerts from ID cards were presented.
  • 439 refused sales.
  • 61% challenges to females.
  • 39% challenges to males.
  • 11% challenges for cigarettes.
  • 71% challenges for alcohol.

(Source The Home Office).

What is ID?

The most common use of ID documentation is to verify that the person holding it is indeed who they claim to be. In the UK, people need to be able to produce documents that can be used as valid proof of identity (ID) and/or proof of residence for a variety of reasons.

Secure identity documents are presented as proof of identity, age, nationality and status, and for employment or renting accommodation within the United Kingdom. Document verification is crucial in ensuring that the documents presented are both genuine and presented by the rightful holder.

Passports often are used as fake ID

Why is fake ID used?

Fake ID is used by people to gain, to obtain or to access situations, goods and services that they are not entitled to, whether this is because of their own identity, their status, their nationality, or their age.

Fake ID can be used for numerous reasons including, for example:

  • Travel and immigration.
  • Gaining employment.
  • Accessing health and medical services.
  • Accessing the benefits system.
  • Gaining entry to age-restricted venues.
  • Buying age-restricted items such as alcohol and tobacco products.
  • Obtaining tattoos and piercings.
  • Accessing free or restrictive parking.
  • Property fraud.
  • Voting.

The Home Office has reported incidents of people using false or fraudulent identity documents to support their DBS check applications. DBS checks (formerly known as CRB checks) are completed by employers and volunteer organisations, in England and Wales, to confirm a candidate’s criminal record. Most frequently, they are used to verify whether an individual is suitable to work in industries with vulnerable people, such as education and healthcare.

There are several reasons why teenagers use a fake ID.

Some of them are:

  • To buy alcohol and cigarettes – This is one of the main reasons for using fake ID documents. To buy tobacco products such as cigarettes and alcohol, a person legally has to be 18 years of age across the UK, although many retailers raise that age to over 21 years or even over 25 years. Challenge 25 is a policy whereby anyone buying alcohol who appears to be below the age of 25, seven years above the age required to buy alcohol in the UK, can be asked to provide an acceptable form of ID. Teenagers and those under 25 use fake ID to get around this policy.
  • To go to bars and nightclubs – Many bars and nightclubs do not allow people under the age of 18 years to enter; some stipulate a minimum age of 21 years and others may have signed up to the Challenge 25 policy refusing admission to anyone who can not provide proof of age.
  • To drive with no licence – To drive, a person has to be a minimum of 17 years old and have passed their driving test. Fake driving licences are not only used by underage teens but also some drivers who have points on their licence or who may have had their driving licence revoked. To drive without a valid driving licence will also mean that the car and driver are not insured.

The different types of fake ID

There are generally five types of fake ID:

  • A genuine document which is being used by someone else (a.k.a. passing-off).
  • A genuine document which has been altered.
  • A genuine document which has been fraudulently obtained.
  • A fake document which is a copy of a genuine document.
  • A false document, i.e. someone has created a completely false or counterfeit document.

Various laws govern the creation, or alteration or procurement, or use of fake ID.

These include:

The types of documents that fall into these categories can include:

  • Passports.
  • Driving licences.
  • Biometric residence permits.
  • EU photo identification cards.
  • HM forces or Police ID cards.

The fake or fraudulent use of any of these documents is a criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of £5,000 fine and/or 2-, 5-, or 10-years’ imprisonment (depending on the type of document used) for the person using the identity document illegally or fraudulently.

For situations such as requiring proof of address in addition to ID, the documents that might be faked include:

  • Utility bills such as gas, electric, water.
  • Council tax statements.
  • Bank statements.
  • Mortgage statements.
  • Credit card statements.

Other ID documents that may be faked or used by someone else who is not entitled to use it include, but are not limited to:

  • Disability parking badges.
  • Parking permits.
  • Travel passes.
  • Membership cards.
  • Discount cards.
Parking permit

How to spot a fake ID

A basic level of vigilance can be sufficient to flag concerns with ID being shown and to recognise the need for further investigation.

  • Comparing the photograph in the document to the actual candidate. Pay particular attention to the lips, chin, eyes, nose and ears; the shape of an ear will not change drastically, so even if a document or card was issued some years before some features do not alter.
  • Checking identifiable features, such as moles, scars or tattoos.
  • Calculating the age of the person based on the date of birth in the document. Does it approximately match with the appearance of the person standing in front of you?
  • Comparing the signature in the document with one provided elsewhere by the individual or ask the individual to provide a signature for comparison.
  • Inspecting the card or document for photo tampering or amendments for printed personal details.
  • Checking the general quality of the card or document; is it manufactured to a high standard?
  • Using an ID scanner, you can quickly tell whether the card is legitimate or not as those who make fake ID cards don’t usually encode a magnetic strip.
  • Asking the ID holder questions about their ID such as age next birthday or zodiac sign.
  • Making sure that the card or document is valid and hasn’t expired.
  • Looking for ragged edges or square edges on the card or document.
  • Looking for bumps or air pockets on laminated cards or documents.
  • Checking for print alterations, misspellings etc.

Identifying whether a genuine document belongs to the person using it can be more difficult. When checking if ID belongs to a person, the easiest and quickest method is to check the photograph.

If you have any doubts that a photograph in an ID matches its user, then you could carry out further checks such as:

  • Asking the person for their date of birth – This can lead to them mixing their own with the one on the ID or not being able to recite the date on the ID on the spot.
  • Asking the person for their zodiac sign – A person may have memorised the date of birth on the ID which they are using but are unlikely to know the corresponding star sign.
  • Ask for another form of ID, such as a bank or student card. If someone steals or borrows another person’s ID, they are unlikely to take other forms and their purse/wallet will have their own ID in it.
  • Ask for the postcode on the ID – A person using borrowed ID may know the first line of the address but may have difficulty remembering the postcode under pressure.
  • Ask for their age – Someone with borrowed ID may accidentally give their own age.

How to spot a fake driving licence

Some fake licences are not detected by ID scanners, and many will have UV markings, so they can’t be detected as fakes with UV lights.

You can make some of the following manual checks:

  • Check the image and date of birth with the person standing in front of you.
  • Look for raised parts – Is the surname, category and the date over the photo raised? Run your finger over them or look at them at an angle to check. They may scratch off with your nail if fake.
  • Check the holograms. On the front there is a steering wheel, road and speedometer with a needle that ‘moves’. On the back there is the person’s face alternating with the date of expiry. With some fakes, the face does not disappear as it should when the date appears.
  • Read what is actually written on the card – Does it say Driving Licence or Provisional Driving Licence? It should not say Driving Permit etc.
  • Is the card too thick, too rigid, too flexible?

Some of the most common faults with fake driving licences include:

  • Incorrect image of the flag.
  • Wrong words across the top, for example, ‘National Identification’ or ‘International Driving Permit’.
  • The licence is in a different language.
  • Plain or simple-patterned background.
  • Photograph in the wrong place.
  • No signature or an incorrect signature.
  • Fake holograms.
  • Information in the wrong places.

A legitimate UK driver’s licence should contain the following information:

  • Driver number.
  • A first name, surname, date and place of birth.
  • Driver’s signature.
  • Driver’s address.
  • Date of licence issue, photo expiry and issuing authority.
  • Valid photograph (black and white on newer photocards).
  • Entitlement categories.
  • Hologram of a steering wheel over the driver’s photograph which ‘turns’ as you move the card.
  • Holographic images on the front.
  • Pictograms on the reverse.
  • A green/gold steering wheel image on the reverse.
  • Information codes.
  • Complex pattern as the background.

How to spot a fake provisional driving licence

The security features of the provisional licence are identical to the full driving licence so checking whether a provisional driving licence is fake is the same as for a full licence.

Legitimate driving license

How to spot a fake passport

Be aware that many countries will have different issue types of passport. The designs of these may change regularly. Validity periods for passports can also vary. Passports come in the form of a booklet and the quantity of page numbers may vary. Most countries’ passports should comply with rules set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation to enable them to be machine readable. The biographical data page relating to the holder may be made of paper or be a polycarbonate page insert.

The UK has issued three passport designs since 2010. The latest design released in 2020 was the first UK passport to include a polycarbonate biographical data page. Be aware that countries are always updating their passport designs.

Most passports contain a number of security features.

These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Holograms.
  • Transparent holograms.
  • Complex background print.
  • A Machine-Readable Zone (MRZ) containing the holder’s encoded data.
  • Unique fonts.
  • Unique ultraviolet (UV) features.
  • Tactile features, especially where the document is made from polycarbonate.

Things to consider when checking the validity of passports include:

  • Look at the quality of the document – It should be manufactured to a high standard. Consider the detail of the embossed design on the front (usually gold foil stamped into the cover), and feel the texture of the cover material.
  • Look at the fluorescence (brightness) of the document using ultraviolet light – Security documents should have a dull reaction.
  • Nearly all passports contain watermarks – Some paper-based identity cards also have one. When light is shone through the page the genuine watermark has subtle variations in the light and dark areas (thinner or thicker areas of paper), unlike a counterfeit one which has been printed onto the surface.
  • Security fibres appear randomly across the paper. No repeated pattern should be seen as the process is completely random.
  • Look at the quality of the printing – It should be solid lines of high quality. The printed patterns on the pages are deliberately complex, like banknotes, to make copying difficult. The background print in a genuine passport consists of solid fine lines; fake passports are often random dots. Commercial printing cannot produce the same quality as security printing.
  • Genuine intaglio printing used for passports will have raised print which can be identified by touch; in contrast, counterfeit documents simulate this using an embossing process.
  • Many documents have holographic devices which are highly detailed and display different colours and designs when rotated and tilted.
  • Passports are made up from sheets of paper which are then stitched together and cut to size. The pages and cover should therefore all be in perfect alignment. To forge a document, it may first be taken apart and then re-assembled by hand, making it difficult for all the pages to sit flush as before.

What is considered as acceptable ID?

Acceptable forms of ID to prove you are over 18 include:

  • A photo driving licence.
  • A passport.
  • An EU national identity card (unexpired).
  • A proof of age card, such as the PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme.

PASS was launched in 2000 to combat fake proof of age cards which were becoming a widespread national problem. It provides a reliable, robust and recognisable proof of age supported by enforcers, to help those who sell age-restricted products avoid selling illegally to underage customers.

The possession of a PASS accredited card demonstrates that the person’s age and personal details have been verified by the card issuer and that they are who they say they are.

It is also the only scheme that is backed by the Government and the enforcement authorities such as the police and Trading Standards. When a young person produces any card bearing the PASS hologram, the retailer only needs to check the photo and the date of birth, and the sale can proceed.

The designs of PASS approved cards do differ, so PASS suggests this five-step checking process:

  • Step 1 – Check the PASS hologram
    – Look for the 3D effect in the background of the hologram.
    – Make sure it has the characteristic tick on the ‘A’ in the PASS lettering.
    – The hologram must be flush with the plastic of the card – NOT stuck on top of the plastic.
  • Step 2 – Check the photograph
    – Ensure that the photograph is of the person presenting the card.
    – The photograph must be printed directly onto the plastic of the card – NOT stuck on top of the plastic.
  • Step 3 – Check the date of birth
    – If a person is purchasing alcohol or tobacco, look for the 18+ symbol on the card, otherwise make sure they are old enough to buy the goods or services.
    – Calculate the age of the person from the date of birth.
    – The date of birth must be printed onto the plastic – NOT handwritten or stuck on top of the plastic.
  • Step 4 – Check the card
    – Ensure the card has not been tampered with or altered.
    – Feel the card – It should be completely smooth.
  • Step 5 – Check the person
    – If you are still unsure about a person’s age, your legal responsibility is to refuse to sell.

In addition to the above, in some circumstances and situations other forms of ID will be acceptable; individuals will need to check document acceptability in each situation.

These documents can include:

Acceptable non-photographic personal ID.

  • Full UK birth certificate.
  • Current full driving licence (old version) – Old style provisional driving licences are not acceptable.
  • Marriage/civil partnership certificate.
  • Current firearms certificate.

Acceptable documents to confirm address.

  • Recent utility bill (gas, electricity or landline telephone) not more than six months old OR a certificate from a supplier of those utilities confirming the arrangement to pay for the services on pre-payment terms. Note: Utility bills in joint names are acceptable.
  • Local authority council tax bill valid for the current year.
  • Current UK photo-card driving licence (if not already presented as a photographic personal ID document) or old style driving licence.
  • Bank, building society or credit union statement or passbook containing current address.
  • Most recent mortgage statement from a recognised lender.
Underage drinking using fake ID

What is considered as unacceptable ID?

Unacceptable forms of ID to prove you are over 18 include, but are not limited to:

  • Birth certificates.
  • Paper driving licences.
  • Student ID cards.
  • Library cards.
  • Travel cards / Oyster cards.
  • Debit and credit cards.
  • Store cards.
  • Gym or other membership cards.
  • Disability parking badges.

Unacceptable forms of ID to confirm address include, but are not limited to:

  • Utility bills, bank or building society statements over 6 months old.
  • Mobile telephone bills.
  • Letters and envelopes containing an address.

As you may be asked to prove your identity and in some circumstances your address, for a variety of reasons including for the right to work, the right to rent, club membership, library membership, applying for store and discount cards etc., you need to check with whoever is asking for the ID proof which documents they will accept.

What should you do if you spot a fake ID?

The person attempting to use a fake ID has broken the law. You should report it to the police immediately. Only certain categories of person, for example a police officer, have legal powers to seize false ID. However, any member of staff presented with false ID may ask for it to be handed over.

They should advise the individual that if they fail to hand over the false ID, the police may be called to investigate the possible commission of an offence relating to the use of the false ID.

Staff should fill out an incident book when fake ID comes into their possession so that the premises or the company employing the staff have a record of ID that has been handed over and the details of the incident are not lost. If fake ID has been handed over it must be stored securely. It is good practice that false ID which has been confiscated should not be held at the premises for longer than 72 hours after it was handed over.

If you encounter a suspected false or fake document then contact the police or your local Immigration Enforcement Office.

About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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