For bored teenagers looking to sneak into bars or clubs, buying an illegal fake ID has become scarily easy. They don't need to rely on friends of friends, scribbled instructions or shady meetings in back alleys. Now, the local fake ID vendor is just an Instagram post or Reddit comment away.
Entire communities of people eager to buy or sell fake IDs have sprung up online. As well as a more hidden industry quietly existing on the deep web outside of the curious Google searches of teenagers, fake ID vendors have become so confident that they're promoting their products publicly.
Reddit and Instagram did not respond to our requests for comment. We will update this story if we hear back from them.
There's A Subreddit For Everything
The Fake IDs subreddit is a community within Reddit where people can share links, accounts of their experience, and information about the purchase and creation of illegal fake IDs. Surprisingly, this isn't a new community soon to be stamped out by Reddit administrators. Instead, it has existed for nearly three years, with the first online archive of the community originating from January 2012.
One fake ID vendor discussed on the subreddit is Ozzy Fake ID. On the group's website, they explain why they started selling fake IDs online:
Growing up in Australia you all know the drill you’re friends with people older than you, hang out with them kick back until the time comes that they all want to go out clubbing or go to the casino, pub whatever it may be and you’re left behind babysitting the TV remote controller just to be sure it doesn’t run away. Well me and my best mate had enough and had to do something about it. We put our heads together and we knew we could do something about this problem.
Ozzy Fake IDs
On its website, Ozzy Fake ID directs users to search for the group on the fake ID subreddit, explaining "You will see that we are legit vendors." For many online fake ID vendors, online feedback and reviews are essential, and a clear sign that they aren't scammers. Sure enough, the fake ID subreddit has a thread on Ozzy Fake ID, and the general consensus is that the group is made up of unprofessional scammers.
The most popular posts on the fake ID subreddit are helpful guides for people looking t0 sneak into bars with their assumed identity. One thread, "Bar Tips For Fake ID Users," identifies a series of tactics that teenagers can use, including "Smile and greet bouncers," "Know your fake age," and "Don't get too fucked up."
Another popular post is a guide to the multitude of fake ID vendors online. The ranking is controversial, however, and a user named iOracle, who works for Novelty IDs, expresses his disappointment that he is ranked far down the list:
Replies came in from another Reddit user and even the competitor who was ranked higher than him, explaining why his products are considered superior:
The subreddit's most upvoted post comes from a user claiming to be 12-years-old who want a fake ID to buy an 18-rated Xbox game.
Reddit has even skyrocketed to the front page of Google, bringing its wealth of information on how to buy fake IDs to a large audience. A search for "Buy fake ID" on google.com shows the fake ID subreddit's "Comprehensive Fake ID Vendor Guide" post as the eighth result.
Part of the Reddit post ranking as one of the top results for the popular Google search:
Reddit Instagram Isn't Just For Photos Of Food
Popular fake ID sellers often run promotions to raise their profile. One seller, Really Good Fakes, runs his promotions using Instagram. The promotion starts with a Reddit or Instagram post informing users that a certain amount of fake IDs will be given away using a secret code.
To see the code, people need to follow the fake ID seller's Instagram account before it is made private. That way, the code is kept within a small number of people. Surprisingly, most people use their personal Instagram accounts to interact with and follow the fake ID vendors. Their full names and employment details are often visible, along with the comments and queries directed toward the sellers of illegal fake IDs.
But Instagram isn't just used to run promotions. Aware that the photo sharing app is popular amongst teenagers, fake ID vendors with names like Anonymous IDs, Planet Fakes and Top Notch Novelty often set up profiles on the site to advertise their products. A search for the hashtag #fakeid using Instagram browser Iconosquare shows that over 20,000 photos and videos on the site have been uploaded with the hashtag.
Here are some of the results for the #fakeid search on Instagram, showing a seller promoting his products:
Fake ID vendors on Instagram use some thoroughly modern promotional tactics. Photos are annotated with emoji to stand out to teenagers eager to sneak into their local bars. Images are also uploaded with hashtags such as #collegelife, #weekend, #party and #club, which means they'll appear alongside party snaps from other teenagers.
Here's a typical promotional post from popular Instagram fake ID seller Anonymous IDs, which was uploaded to a public Instagram account:
And here's another post from the same Instagram account showing the states for which it can produce fake IDs:
While there's certainly plenty of evidence that there are people soliciting for business on Reddit and Instagram, are people actually buying anything? After all, many internet black markets are filled with people selling things they have no intention on ever delivering. As The Daily Dot reports, the deep web has many sites claiming to offer assassinations, but there's no evidence that anyone has ever been killed from a deep web "hit."
But many people online have confessed to purchasing fake IDs through vendors who operate publicly through Reddit and Instagram. One Australian man, speaking to The Herald, claims to have purchased a fake ID after following a link found on Reddit.
And on the popular Frat subreddit, two people claim to have used Instagram to buy fake ID:
Reddit Here's What You Actually Get
Researchers at detox.net used the Fake ID subreddit to find a fake ID seller, and proceeded to purchase a fake ID. The card itself arrived in a DHL document parcel. It was hidden inside the middle page of an air conditioner instruction manual:
The product that was delivered was obviously fake, and bouncers they talked to informed them that it would not pass muster when trying to gain entry to a club.
Here's a comparison of a real Florida driver's license card (top) compared with a fake card purchased from a vendor found on Reddit (bottom):
So if the ID cards being sold by vendors listed on Reddit and Instagram don't work, where are the expert forgers selling their goods? Business Insider spoke with someone who has knowledge of the online black market for fake ID cards, and they directed us to a series of "deep web" marketplaces.
The deep web is a collection of websites and servers that are inaccessible through normal web browsers. Instead, they are accessed using "Onion" links, a series of letters and numbers that form a URL that will only load through the anonymous web browser Tor.
Perhaps the best known deep web marketplace, the Silk Road, was shut down by the FBI on October 2 2013. The FBI arrested 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht in a San Francisco library, accusing him of running the site which served as a marketplace for the sale of drugs, fake IDs, and other illicit items.
Ulbricht was found to have ordered a collection of fake ID cards online. The New York Times reported that Customs and Border Protection intercepted a package of forged ID cards that Ulbricht had ordered through a deep web marketplace, likely the Silk Road.
United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of NY
The market for fake ID cards didn't end with the closure of the Silk Road. Sellers moved to the other hidden marketplaces, and even returned to the Silk Road when a new version of the site, dubbed the Silk Road 2.0, went live in November 2013.
In order to help its readers navigate the tricky world of deep web marketplaces, the fake ID community on Reddit has even created a detailed guide to downloading Tor, finding the hidden markets, and to purchasing and anonymizing Bitcoin. Once readers have done these steps, they're ready to hit the deep web and buy fake IDs.
The Silk Road 2.0 has hundreds of listings for fake ID cards. Prices are listed in cryptocurrency Bitcoin rather than USD, since Bitcoin makes it far more difficult for law enforcement to track purchases.
The Silk Road
Deep web ID sellers show off the features that their fake ID cards come with. This Silk Road sellers shows that his cards include security features that show under UV lights, just like genuine ID cards:
The Silk Road
Feedback and reviews are vital for deep web sellers. Without them, it's difficult for potential customers to know if the vendors are scammers or not. Fake ID sellers on the deep web often have pages filled with positive reviews. Just like Ozzy Fake ID, vendors encourage buyers to check their feedback before purchasing, confident that their track record speaks for itself.
The Silk Road
It's not just ID cards that are listed for sale on the deep web, though. Entire passports can be purchased online, although they are far more expensive. The C9 marketplace lists British passports for sale for $1,548.58.
The internet's fake ID marketplace is enjoying somewhat of a boom period. It has realised that sites like Reddit and Instagram have no intention of cracking down on their established networks. The seizure of the Silk Road concerned professional forgers, but the plethora of other shady marketplaces, and the launch of the Silk Road 2.0, has shown them that the world of fake ID sales online is here to stay.
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