Checking Identification

I.D. Basics

Twenty-one is the legal drinking age.  If you, the seller or server of alcohol, ask for and inspect bona fide I.D. before you serve a patron, you can defend yourself against a charge of selling alcohol to a minor.

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 written evidence of age.

If you have any doubts about an I.D., you have the right to, and should, refuse service.  You may refuse service to anyone, but you cannot discriminate as to race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, disability, marital status, or national origin.  Persons under age 21 are not protected by age discrimination laws.  To refuse service, simply say: “I could lose my job if I accepted this I.D.” or “I’d be happy to serve you something else, but I can’t serve you alcohol.”

Bona Fide I.D.

Bona fide (legally acceptable) l.D. is one card that contains these six items:

  • Issued by a 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 Acceptable I.D.

  • California Driver’s License/I.D. Card
  • Out-of-state Driver’s License/I.D. Card
  • U.S. Military I.D.’s without a physical description are acceptable as of 1/1/2010
  • Both U.S. and foreign Passports with photograph, but without a physical description are acceptable as of 1/1/2010
  • A person may not combine two unacceptable I.D.’s to make one acceptable I.D.

Examples of Unacceptable I.D.

  • U.S. government immigrant I.D. card
  • Birth Certificate
  • School or work I.D. card
  • ID issued by non-government agency
  • Social security card
  • Interim or temporary driver license or receipt for license from DMV
  • Foreign driver licenses/ID cards that do not feature the name, date of birth, photograph and physical description in a language you understand
  • 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., “We only accept California driver licenses.”

Legal Defense

You, as a licensee or employee, will have a legal defense if (1) you relied on a bona fide I.D.; and (2) you showed good faith in checking the I.D. To illustrate:

  • Bona Fide I.D. –  A valid driver license or state issued I.D. card
  • Good Faith Effort –  You make a reasonable inspection. (I.D. looks real, no obvious alterations, photo and description reasonably match person, and customer reasonably looks age 21)
  • Legal Defense – You are able to defend yourself in court.

The F-L-A-G System for Checking I.D.

If a patron looks under 30 years old, say, “I will need to see your I.D., please. Could you remove it from your wallet?” Then, check the I.D. using the F-L-A-G system:

Ask for I.D. if they look under 30, then:

  • Feel
  • Look
  • Ask
  • Give Back

“F” = FEEL

  • On the new California drivers license and identification cards issued after September 2010 – The cardholder’s date of birth is shown across the primary photo with raised numbers.

Other states use security features such as:

Laser Engraved Tactile Signature – The cardholder’s signature is laser engraved with raised lettering

Laser Engraved Tactile Date of Birth – The cardholder’s date of birth is laser engraved with raised numbers

  • Lumps and Bumps – On all other I.D.’s feel for information cut out or pasted on, especially near the photo and birth date. Do not accept obviously altered I.D. cards.
  • Layers – Real California magnetic stripe I.D.’s are made in three layers. The three layers are bonded with heat so they won’t come apart without destroying the card. Insert your fingernail or sharp object into a corner of the card. If the layers separate, the card is fake and you should not accept it.


“L” = LOOK

  • Using a flashlight pressed against the back of the card – A laser perforation in the shape of the California Brown Bear can be seen
  • Alterations – Look for alterations at the birth date area.
  • Photograph – Minors can alter their hairstyles, eye makeup, and eye color.  Therefore, focus on the person’s nose and chin, ears and eye shape.  These features do not change.  For people with beards or mustaches, cover the beard or mustache and focus on the nose or ears.  If the photo does not closely match the person, do not accept the I.D.  Look what side the photograph is on.  The photograph for minors appears on the right; adults are on the left.  On the new California drivers license and identification cards issued after Sept 2010, the adult card is horizontal.  The minor card is vertical.
  • Height and Weight – If they do not reasonably match the person, do not accept the I.D.
  • Date of Birth – Do the math! In many decoy programs the server is cited because he or she asked for I.D., but failed to calculate the person’s age. Legal age devices can be helpful.
  • Apparent Age – For you to have a successful defense, the patron must look like they could be 21 years old. If not, do not accept the I.D. no matter how good it looks.
  • Expiration DateDo not accept expired I.D. cards. Also, false I.D. cards will often have a colon (:) after the word “Expires.” Genuine cards do not have the colon.
  • Typeface – Counterfeits may be done on a typewriter and contain spelling or other errors. If you see this, do not accept the I.D.
  • Signature – On the new California drivers license and identification cards issued after September 2010, the signature is raised above the cardstock and can be felt.


  • What is your driver license number? Zip code?
  • What month were you born? If they respond with a number instead of the name of the month, they are probably lying.
  • Would you sign your name for me, please? A signature comparison can be a quick way to tell if someone is carrying a false I.D.


  • If the I.D. passes the feel, look and ask tests, give it back to the patron and make the sale. If it does not, refuse the sale.  Then, either give the I.D. back or seize it, depending on your company’s policy.  You have a right to refuse service to minors.  If you seize an I.D. here are the requirements of Business and Professions Code 25659:
    • Issue a receipt to the person. Inexpensive books of triplicate receipts are available at office supply stores.
    • Attach copy of the receipt to the I.D.
    • Keep the third copy of the receipt for your records, with notes, about the situation (Who, What, When, Where and Why).
    • Turn the I.D. 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 I.D. policies:

  • Ask for I.D. from anyone who looks under 30 years old. If someone asks you, “Why are you checking my I.D.?” say, “Our policy is to card people who look under 30.”
  • Managers will support employees’ decisions to refuse service
  • If you must sell pitcher beer, ask for an I.D. from each person who receives a glass
  • Check I.D. as if you were cashing a $250 check because that is how much a mistake could cost you!
  • Door personnel and servers will both check I.D.’s
  • Post signs
  • Call the police for help if needed
  • If in doubt about an I.D., don’t accept it.

Identifying Minors
(And How They May Fool You)

Be aware that minors may look and act in ways that may fool you. Some minors may look or act young. Others look or act in ways that may fool you.

Identifying Minors:

  • Physical Appearance
  • Behavior and Dress
  • Drink Orders
  • Where They Sit
  • Companions
  • I.D. Excuses

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

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

Penal Code Sections

  • 113 – Manufacture, Distribute, or Sell Documents to Conceal True Citizenship (Misdemeanor or Felony)
  • 114 – Use False Documents to Conceal True Citizenship (Felony)
  • 115 – Record False or Forged Instrument (Felony)
  • 118 – Perjury Defined
  • 127 – Subornation of Perjury
  • 132 – Offer Forged or Altered Documents (Felony)
  • 134 – Falsifying Documents (Felony)
  • 146b – Simulating Official Inquiries (Misdemeanor)
  • 146c – Use of Terms “Police,” “Law Enforcement,” etc. (Misdemeanor)
  • 146d – Card, Badge, Device, Offer Immunity From Enforcement (Misdemeanor)
  • 148.9 – Give False Identification to Peace Officer (Misdemeanor)
  • 470 – Forgery – Acts Constituting
  • 470a – Forge Driver License or Identification Card to Facilitate Forgery (Felony)
  • 470b – Possess Forged Driver License or Identification Card to Facilitate Forgery (Felony)
  • 471 –  Alter Entries (Felony)
  • 472 – Forgery, Counterfeiting, State, Corporate, Official Seals (Felony)
  • 484.1 – False Identification to Pawnbroker, Secondhand Dealer (Misdemeanoror F)
  • 529 – False Personation (Felony)
  • 529a – Make, Sell, etc. False Birth or Baptismal Certificates – aka Deceptive ID (Misdemeanor)

Business and Professions Code Sections

  • 119 – Unlawful Use of Driver License
  • 22430 – Deceptive Documents, 14 pt. Type “NOT A GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT” (Misdemeanor)
  • 25660 – Documentary Evidence of Age and Identity
  • 25660.5 – Sell, Give, etc. False Identification to Person Under 21 (Misdemeanor)
  • 25661 – Possession/Use of False Evidence of Age by Person Under 21 (Misdemeanor)

Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Investigations



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