Checking Identification

This is not legal advice. It is a summary of some applicable laws and general suggestions. If you have any questions you should seek independent legal counsel.

Identification Basics

A very important step for the prevention of illegal sales to minors is adequate training of staff on what the policies and laws are regarding the sale of alcohol. Staff must know what to look for when checking ID’s to be able to prevent the sale. They must also know how to deal with the customer once a suspected false/counterfeit ID is presented.

The legal drinking age in California is 21. You are never required to sell or serve alcohol to anyone. A person does not have a legal “right” to buy alcohol, but you have a legal right to refuse service to anyone who cannot produce adequate evidence of their age.

If you have any doubts about an identification, you should refuse the sale of alcoholic beverages. However, it is important to remember that you cannot discriminate as to race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or national origin, among other things. Persons under the age of 21 are not protected by age discrimination laws when it comes to the sale or service of alcoholic beverages.

Bona Fide Identification

Bona fide (legally acceptable) identification is one card that contains these six characteristics:

  • Issued by a U.S. government agency (federal, state, county, or city)
  • Name of the person
  • Date of birth
  • Photograph
  • Physical description (height, weight, hair and eye color)
  • Currently valid (not expired)

Examples of Identification that could be bona fide

  • California Real ID/driver license/identification card
  • Out-of-state driver license/identification card
  • U.S. Military identification without a physical description are acceptable
  • Both U.S. and foreign passports with photograph, but without a physical description are acceptable
  • A person may not combine two unacceptable identifications to make one acceptable identification

Examples of Identification that are not bona fide

  • U.S. Government Immigrant identification card
  • Birth Certificate
  • School or work identification card
  • Identification issued by a non-government agency
  • Social Security card
  • Interim or temporary driver license or receipt for license from DMV
  • Foreign driver license/identification card
  • Check cashing card
  • Otherwise valid document that is expired, altered, borrowed, stolen, counterfeit, or forged

A business may have a company policy that is stricter than the law; e.g., “Only California driver licenses/identifications are accepted” or “anyone purchasing alcoholic beverages MUST present an identification, regardless of age.”

System for Checking Identification

ABC recommends you check identification in a methodical and systematic manner.

A simple acronym to help people remember how to check identification and spot false or borrowed identification is by using the F-L-A-G system.

  • Feel
  • Look
  • Ask
  • Give Back

Sellers of alcoholic beverages should also ask customers to remove the identification from wallets/ID holders in order to physically handle the card. This will help to properly examine the identification.

“F” = FEEL

  • Feel the identification to check the card’s rigidity, a fake ID will often have different weight and/or thickness of a real ID.
  • Check the identification card’s edges, the edges should be smooth and rounded around the entire card. Lifted corners may be a sign of a fake ID.
  • Check and feel the front and back of the ID for bumps, ridges and irregularities, feel for information that may be cut out or pasted on, especially near the photo and date of birth.

Identifications may also contain security features such as:

  • Laser Engraved Tactile Signature – The cardholder’s signature is laser engraved with raised letters.
  • Laser Engraved Tactile Date of Birth – The cardholder’s date of birth is laser engraved with raised numbers.

“L” = LOOK

Take your time looking at the identification in your hand. Know what to look for:

  • Alterations — Look for any alterations to the identification.
  • Typeface — Counterfeits may be done on a computer and may contain spelling or other errors, including different font size. If you see this, do not accept the ID.
  • Date of Birth — Do the math! In many decoy programs the server is cited because he or she asked for ID but failed to calculate the person’s age. Also, a helpful feature on a minor’s identification is that there is a red strip that tells you when the minor will be 21. For example, “age 21 in 2021”.
  • Photograph — Minors can alter their hairstyles, eye makeup, and eye color or grow a beard/mustache. Therefore, focus on the shape of their nose, chin, ears and eyes. These features do not change. If the photo does not closely match the person, do not accept the ID.
  • Height and Weight — If they do not reasonably match the person, do not accept the ID.
  • While using a flashlight pressed against the back of the card, you can see a laser perforation in the shape of the California Brown Bear and the shape of the State of California.
  • A very important feature is that a California minor’s driver license/ID card is vertical as opposed to the adult card which is horizontal.


If you suspect that an identification is fake, ask the ID holder questions. If they don’t know the answers or get nervous, you probably have a fake ID on your hands. Here are some questions you can ask the cardholder to help determine if their ID is fake.

  • Ask them to tell you their driver license/ID number.
  • Ask them to confirm the personal information their ID card contains.
  • Ask them what month they were born. If they respond with a number instead of the name of the month, they are most likely lying.
  • Ask for their signature and then compare it to the signature on their ID.


If the identification passes the feel, look and questions tests, give it back to the customer and make the sale. If it does not, refuse the sale and then, either give the ID back or seize it, depending on your company’s policy. You have a right to refuse service to minors. If you seize an ID, here are the requirements per Section 25659 of the Business and Professions Code:

  • Issue a receipt to the person, inexpensive books of triplicate receipts are available at office supply stores.
  • Attach a copy of the receipt to the ID.
  • Keep the third copy of the receipt for your records, with notes, about the situation (who, what, when, where and why).
  • Turn the identification over to your local police department or sheriff’s office within 24 hours, as required by law.

Good I.D. Policies

The following are some good ID policies:

  • Ask for ID from anyone who appears youthful. If someone asks why you are checking their ID, let them know that it’s your store policy to check ID’s for anyone that appears youthful and possibly under the age of 21.
  • Managers should support their employees’ decisions to refuse service.
  • Post signs about the law and consequences of minors attempting to purchase alcoholic beverages.
  • If in doubt about an ID, do not accept it.
  • If you are not familiar with a particular identification you should not rely upon it.
  • Call the police for help (only if needed).

Identifying Minors (and how they may try to fool you)

Be aware that minors may look and act in ways to deceive you. Some minors may look or act young and others may look or act older to confuse you about their true age.

Identifying Minors:

  • Physical Appearance
  • Behavior and Clothing
  • Type of alcoholic beverages being purchased
  • Companions
  • Excuses regarding their identification

Laws Applying to False Document and Identification Crimes

Misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in county jail, while felonies are punishable by state prison time.

California Vehicle Code Sections

  • Section 20 VC– False Name/Statement (misdemeanor)
  • Section 31 VC – False Information to Peace Officer (misdemeanor)
  • Section 4460 VC – Seizure Authority
  • Section 13004 VC – Unlawful use of Identification Card (misdemeanor)
  • Section 13004.1 VC – Manufacturing or Sale of Documents Similar to California Identification Cards (misdemeanor)
  • Section 13202.5 VC – Delay or Suspension of Driving Privileges for Alcohol or Drug-Related Conviction
  • Section 14610 VC – Unlawful use of a Driver License (misdemeanor)
  • Section 14610.1 VC – Manufacturing or Sale of Documents Similar to California Driver License (misdemeanor)

Penal Code Sections

  • Section 113 PC– Manufacture, Distribute, or Sell Documents to Conceal True Citizenship (misdemeanor or felony)
  • Section 114 PC – Use False Documents to Conceal True Citizenship (felony)
  • Section 115 PC – Record False or Forged Instrument (felony)
  • Section 118 PC – Perjury Defined
  • Section 127 PC – Perjury or Subornation of Perjury
  • Section 132 PC – Offer Forged or Altered Documents (felony)
  • Section 134 PC – Falsifying Documents (felony)
  • Section 146b PC– Simulating Official Inquiries (misdemeanor)
  • Section 146c PC – Use of Terms “Police,” “Law Enforcement,” etc. (misdemeanor)
  • Section 146d PC– Card, Badge, Device, Offer Immunity from Enforcement (misdemeanor)
  • Section 148.9 PC – Give False Identification to Peace Officer (misdemeanor)
  • Section 470 PC – Forgery
  • Section 470a PC – Forge Driver License or Identification Card to Facilitate Forgery (felony)
  • Section 470b PC – Possess Forged Driver License or Identification Card to Facilitate Forgery (felony)
  • Section 471 PC– Alter Entries (felony)
  • Section 472 PC – Forging or Possessing a Fraudulent Public Seal (felony)
  • Section 484.1 PC– False Identification to Pawnbroker, Secondhand Dealer (misdemeanor or felony)
  • Section 529 PC – False Impersonation (felony)
  • Section 529a PC – Make, Sell, etc. False Birth or Baptismal
  • Certificates – aka Deceptive ID (misdemeanor)

Business and Professions Code Sections

  • Section 119 BP– Unlawful Use of Driver License
  • Section 22430 BP – Deceptive Identification Documents (misdemeanor)
  • Section 25660 BP – Documentary Evidence of Age and Identity
  • Section 25660.5 BP – Sell, Give, etc. False Identification to Person Under 21 (misdemeanor)
  • Section 25661 BP – Possession/Use of False Identification by a Minor (misdemeanor)


Additional information may be obtained by contacting:

Alcoholic Beverage Control
3927 Lennane Drive, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95834

Email us at
Call (916) 419-2500