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Buying fake IDs online put teens’ information at risk

The students got a driver's license that officials say can fool border patrol and airport security. And ID Chief got a cache of personal info they auctioned off to the highest bidder.

It seemed like a harmless way to score some beer. But prosecutors say the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., teens who handed over their names, birth dates, pictures, and signatures to a China-based company in exchange for sophisticated fake IDs are in for a lifetime of debt.

City police announced April 3 the arrests of 14 teenagers, most of them Saratoga Springs High School students, who purchased phony IDs through the now-defunct website ID Chief.

Along with a money order for $75, police said, the teens wired their personal information overseas to people in the business of stealing identities.

In return, the kids got a driver’s license that officials say can fool border patrol and airport security, let alone Caroline Street bouncers. And ID Chief got a cache of personal information they immediately auctioned off to the highest bidder.

“As these kids get older and try to get jobs, try to be stockbrokers, or get a mortgage or credit cards, they will find in 90 percent of the cases that they have thousands in credit card debt, that they will have several mortgages they have yet to pay, holds on their licenses to states they’ve never been to, Interpol holds, because they gave their information to a foreign web-based company,” Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy said. “All just to get a beer on Caroline Street.”

The case began March 9, when an 18-year-old bought liquor on his way to a high school hockey game, police said. The young man, Bradley Green, went to the register of a local store with bottles of liquor and a Pennsylvania ID from ID Chief, said Lt. John Catone.

The clerk scanned the license. It checked out. But as Green left the store, another customer told the clerk that Green was in high school. The clerk confronted him. He gave back the liquor, turned over the ID, and left.

Once authorities got their hands on the license, they were stunned at how real the ID looked.

“There was no way you could tell it was fake just by looking at it,” Catone said.

Police soon were looking to speak with 25 other students they believed bought licenses from ID Chief from as far back as last spring.

This week, police arrested 11 Saratoga Springs High School students, two former students, one Skidmore College student, and a father who police say secured a money order for his child’s fake IDs.

They were charged with possession of a forged instrument, a misdemeanor. The parent, Stephen Smero, was charged with one felony count of possession of forged instrument and misdemeanor counts of unlawfully dealing with a child and conspiracy. Smero, 48, of Locus Grove Road, allegedly signed off on a money order for an ID for his 17-year-old daughter, Anna Smero.

Catone said none of the students had any idea of the potentially devastating long-term ramifications of their purchases.

“They’re teenagers,” he said. “Mortgages and loans 10, 20 years from now are not what they’re thinking about.”

ID Chief was an international operation. The orders were placed through an address in China, and the money was wired to Indonesia. The IDs themselves were crafted in England.

The subject of several federal investigations, ID Chief’s website has closed, but Catone said the company likely just shifted to another country and web address, adding that there are many similar sites up and running.

At the April 3 news conference announcing the arrests, authorities stressed the severity of policing counterfeit IDs, pointing out that they’re used by criminals and terrorists—including the 9/11 hijackers—to cross borders and board planes.

The IDs mimic a real license down to the barcodes. For $15, a buyer can have a holographic backdrop pressed on that mimics any state’s three-dimensional security mechanism.

“This is not the fake ID we adults think of. This is not chalking the ID or changing a 1 to a 7, or putting a poster board behind you that says a college’s name and taking a picture,” Murphy said.

Buyers use their real names, birth dates, pictures, and signatures, but can select any state they want. Catone said Pennsylvania was popular because, for some reason, their IDs easily scan through the system without warning.

The IDs are often obscured when shipped. Some were concealed in tea sets.

Copyright (c) 2012, Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Visit Times Union online at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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