Revealed: How fake ID cards fuel under-age drinking boom

Investigation: Licensees are being duped by phoney proof-of-age cards bought by youngsters over the internet without difficulty
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A burgeoning industry in fake ID cards is undermining the Government's attempt to crack down on under-age drinking, an Independent on Sunday investigation can reveal.

A burgeoning industry in fake ID cards is undermining the Government's attempt to crack down on under-age drinking, an Independent on Sunday investigation can reveal.

More than a dozen firms based in the UK are offering children authentic-looking ID cards as false proof that they are 18. The plastic cards, in the same format as recently issued driving licences, are so realistic that pubs, clubs and off-licences complain they cannot tell the difference between legitimate cards and the fakes.

Richard Caborn, the licensing minister, branded the companies' actions "despicable" and promised to investigate. Publicans expressed outrage and said that the firms should be prosecuted for fuelling under-age drinking.

The revelation follows an announcement by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, that more than half the pubs and a third of the off-licences targeted this summer had sold alcohol to under-18s. Teenage drinkers are blamed for much of the drunken violence in town centres.

John Grogan MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, said: "It makes the Government's alcohol strategy a bit of a joke. If you want a proof-of-age card you can get one very quickly." One of the companies, phidentity.com, claimed that it was not its fault if a pub let someone in with one of its cards. Jon Buchan, aspokesman, said: "They are not replicas of genuine cards and have been made up from scratch. They are totally fictional, and do not attempt to resemble any existing cards. Any licensee accepting these cards is not doing their job."

But on Mr Buchan's website, customers can buy a "European Identity Card" - a plastic card which carries the EU flag and union flag, the cardholder's photo, date of birth and signature. On the back of the card, which costs £10, it claims to be an "identity card for travelling Europeans". The website boasts that the card has a "genuine/ secure holographic overlay".

The website says: "None of the statements on Phidentity cards are true." Such disclaimers have frustrated trading standards officers and police who accept that the companies are not breaking any law. Ruth Taylor, head of North Yorkshire Trading Standards Special Investigations team, who carried out an investigation into fake ID cards earlier this year, said: "It's difficult to prosecute companies when they make it clear they are selling them for novelty purposes."

Licensees called on the Government to take firm action and, create legislation to push the companies out of business. Tony Payne, the chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association, said: "These companies should be prosecuted. They are helping and encouraging people to break the law ... it's not our fault."

The Government supports industry plans to introduce a proof-of-age standards scheme (Pass) to help licensees ensure under-18s are not served. The scheme would force companies offering proof-of-age cards to prove they have thorough checks in place. Card companies that pass the audit would have the Pass hologram logo on their card. Licensees expect the scheme to be in force by the end of next year.

Until then, pub, club and off-licence managers fear the problem of fake ID cards will continue. James Lowman, a spokesman for the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents off-licences, said: "These cards undermine the faith retailers have in proof of age. They don't know if it is valid or not."

'It's easy. No one cares what the law says'

The two bouncers smile obligingly as 17-year-old Catherine waltzes past them and into a crowded central London bar. Her fake ID, which claims she is a 20-year-old called Taylor, remains in her wallet. "It was easy," she says breezily. "If you look confident you're usually fine." Usually, but not always. Catherine and her friends are too young to drink legally, and some doormen are strict. So each weekend they go out armed: all of them have false cards, from doctored driving licences to "IDs" purchased online.

Getting served is no trouble. Clutching a double Bailey's, Catherine holds forth on the merits of the various fake IDs on offer. "If you've got an older brother or sister you just use their driving licence or passport. And there's a guy who makes fake driving licences on his computer." The worst that can happen is they get turned away. "Then we go somewhere else," she says.

The girls have been clubbing since they were 15."Everyone smokes before they're 16 and drinks before they're 18. No one cares what the law says."