The Barrel Room was the first bar ever to let in Maddy Eivers. It was a Saturday night, it was summer, and she wasn't yet 21.
The memory is sharp for Eivers, not only because of the bouncer's tribal tattoos, a Katy Perry remix pounding inside the Old Town bar and the smell of
cologne. She remembers it because she was amazed how easy it was to get in with a fake ID she had ordered online from China.
"The bouncer basically looked at it for a second and then let me in," Eivers, now 22, says. âIt was like a joke. It was too easy.â
Fake IDs have long been a rite of passage for the young and want-to-be-drunk, and they are the chief weapons in the struggle between the under-21 set on one side and, on the other, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and bars charged with keeping the underage from drinking.
But OLCC officials say fake IDs from China like the one Eivers used—sold by a company called ID Chief—have made enforcement especially tough.
ID Chief, the industry leader in phony ID sales, has been selling fakes since 2008, and the OLCC estimates the company has made about $40 million in the U.S. You can order one in the same amount of time it takes to purchase season two of Game of Thrones on Amazon.
"All you need to get a fake ID these days is $200 and Internet access," says Matt Roberts, an OLCC enforcement officer in Medford who specializes in tracking the phony cards.
The agency collects an average of 1,400 fake IDs every year, most confiscated by bartenders, store clerks and bouncers. Roberts says more than half come from China, and most from ID Chief.
Some of these IDs can be detected with the latest scanners that bars and taverns could be using at the front door.
The clubs aren't required to use the scanners, so Multnomah County is considering a plan to have taxpayers shell out as much as $150,000 in subsidies, using a federal grant to buy the scanners for bars and taverns.
"It would be incentive for the licensees to use the scanners and to work with the Portland police for over service and underage drinking," says Devarshi Bajpai, manager of the county's addiction services program.
Eivers, who graduated from Wilson High School in Southwest Portland in 2009, turned 21 a year ago. Before that, she says, she had been drinking alcohol since she was 16—often 40-ouncers of Olde English 800 malt liquor in parks, the booze bought by friends' older siblings.
Once she got to Lane Community College in Eugene, Eivers wanted to buy liquor on her own and socialize in bars. "I thought to myself, I better get me one of these ID Chiefs,â she says.
Friends had told Eivers about ID Chief, based in Guangzhou, China, which produces fakes that are nearly flawless: They look authentic and have holograms and magnetic strips that allow them to go undetected by most scanners.
She ordered her fake ID in March 2011. She chose an Idaho driver's license, which is one of the easiest to forge. She used her real name but listed a false address, in Grangeville, Idaho.
Because ID Chief offers volume discounts, Eivers says about 30 University of Oregon and Lane students went in on the order. She paid $60 and got two IDs in the mail—the extra was included, in case one got confiscated.
To beat the U.S. Customs Service, ID Chief ships the IDs hidden in various products. Eivers' came in a plastic telephone with Chinese characters on the keypad. A friend smashed open the phone with a hammer, and the fake IDs popped out.
"The IDs all seemed so real," Eivers said. "It felt too good to be true."
Eivers used her ID for the first time the next weekend at a Dari Mart in Eugene, buying a 24-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon for a campus party.
At the time, the OLCC was beginning to see a flood of the Chinese IDs. Roberts estimates he's seen fake-ID use double in the past four years, mostly thanks to the Chinese websites.
ID Chief became so significant a problem that in the summer of 2012, four U.S. senators sent a letter to the Chinese government asking it to shut down ID Chief and similar operations. The company closed but moved to a new domain, idchief.me. The new domain is still operating, and OLCC officials believe it's behind other sites like idsbuddy.com.
To combat the phony IDs, the OLCC has been working closely with bouncers in Old Town, where the city's highest density of nightclubs are located, attracting flocks of underage drinkers.
"Any door guy that works downtown has been trained," says Mark Smith, an OLCC enforcement officer for Portland. "The downtown area is not a good place to take your fake ID.â
OLCC officials say the phony IDs can be detected, but declined to describe the telltale signs.
Ross Harper, a bouncer at the Dixie Tavern in Old Town, says the OLCC regularly updates books and software that help businesses detect fraudulent IDs. Harper says Arizona IDs are the most common fakes.
"The coloring on them is different, the fakes are more pink whereas the real Arizona IDs are more brown," Harper says, standing under Dixie's awning. "The fakes have the holograms on them, but it's almost like they've just been laid right on top of the ID, whereas with the real IDs you have to angle them to see the hologram."
The Multnomah County Department of Human Services is targeting unhealthy drinking habits of people under 25 with a $200,000 federal grant.
Along with educational programs and public-service announcements, the grant would pay for scanners for the busier bars in Old Town. Scanners cost about $1,000 each, in addition to a monthly software fee of $199 to $299. The county is also considering paying the bars monthly software fees for the first six months to a year.
"While we haven't decided if we will purchase the scanners or the fake-ID detectors yet, we are considering both," says Bajpai. Community Action to Reduce Substance Abuse is also part of the task force in lending scanners to the bars.
"The bars have never had scanners before, so they're not sure how beneficial they would be," says Donna Libemday, the organization's director. "We would buy the scanners and let the bars use them for a limited time to see how they worked and how useful they are."
But OLCC officials say spending taxpayer money to buy new scanners would be a waste of money.
"In my mind, that would be an ineffective tool; almost all IDs can scan and will say they're over 21," says John Mereen, an OLCC enforcement officer.
County officials are also looking at scanners similar to ones used by the U.S. Border Patrol, which reportedly are sophisticated enough to detect Chinese fake IDs.
"This is a community response, not subsidizing," says Bajpai. "It's us working with bars and the Portland police to address overservice and underage drinking. It lines up with bar goals and Portland police goals."
Eivers used her ID Chief fake for about seven months, until she was busted at the state liquor store on Southwest Barbur Boulevard on New Year's Eve by a cashier who spotted the ID as a phony. She says she was bummed that her "passport to inebriation" was confiscated, and thought the worst punishment she would face was waiting until her 21st birthday, which was about five months away.
But she had been ticketed before for being a minor in possession of alcohol, and the OLCC tracked her down.
Eivers was charged with a misdemeanor for misrepresenting her age. She pleaded guilty and did eight hours of community service and another eight hours in an alcohol education class.
The OLCC's Roberts says the sophistication of the fake IDs will continue to make it difficult to stop them.
"We are working with schools and other law-enforcement agencies to make it more painful to have these IDs than to not have one," Roberts says. "We're working on programs for these IDs so they're easily catchable and no longer a threat. And then we'll just wait for the next wave of new fake IDs to come.â