Thursday, May 17, 2001

Legislature raises
the stakes for fake IDs

A bill awaiting the governor's
approval will make it a
felony to sell or make one

By Lisa Asato

Whether it be minors buying alcohol or big-time crooks stealing money from bank accounts, the problem of fake identification in Hawaii is prevalent and increasing in sophistication, says a city deputy prosecutor.

"I can literally scan your driver's license on a scanner, change the picture and print it out," said Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee. "I can literally create a driver's license. If you've got the right printer and you've got the right scanner, you can do it. It doesn't require a brain surgeon."

A bill passed by the state Legislature would make it a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to make or sell fake IDs. Pending the governor's approval, the bill would take effect immediately.

The bill targets fraudulent documents that purport to be government-issued, including driver's licenses, state IDs, birth certificates and passports.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kanno (D, Ewa Beach-Makakilo) said there are Waikiki businesses selling fake IDs to minors who use them to circumvent the law.

"That's something we want to put an end to," he said. "There aren't laws that can properly control this kind of operation."

Lee said the office has prosecuted cases where people used fake IDs to create bogus bank accounts that were used to launder money.

More commonly, however, people use a fake ID to open a credit card account at a retailer such as Liberty House or Neiman Marcus, he said. In those cases the financial burden is passed onto everyone.

"Not only does it affect the individual whose ID is stolen and credit is ruined, but it also affects all the people who lost money down the line," he said. "The stores and banks have to pass it on to somebody, either by insurance later recouped in higher premiums or higher prices."

Christopher Young, deputy attorney general, said fake IDs have always been a problem in their use by both minors and criminals.

Noting that Hawaii driver's licenses no longer carry a Social Security number, he said government has taken steps to make it harder to assume someone else's identification.

But he said advances in technology have led to more people making fake IDs on their own.

Lee said currently, such offenses are prosecuted as forgeries, but that can allow someone to escape criminal prosecution because of a technicality.

"Forgery doesn't quite fit. It's like putting a square peg in a circle. When the forgery laws were enacted, we never had online banking, computers, scanners. We never had digital printing. ... The laws have to keep up with growing and sophisticated trends of how crimes are being committed."

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