It feels weird to finally be able to say that. Depending on which state statute you go by, I committed either a Class D felony or a Class A misdemeanor. The reason I can talk about it now is because the statue of limitations on both has expired.
Before anyone gets their hopes up about me providing all the tools and knowledge I picked up in the hopes of doing it themselves, I’m gonna stop you right there. Frankly, I don’t remember most of the stuff I used, and even if I did I wouldn’t share it. Also, a lot of the techniques I used wouldn’t work anymore, due to changes made in how they make IDs. This is a cautionary tale, about the nature of risk versus reward.
My senior year of college, I was living in the fraternity. Like most college students, I was pretty broke. I had a part time job working for campus IT services, but it didn’t pay all that much. With my graduation virtually assured and my second semester looking like I was going to be doing a lot of sleeping, drinking, and other assorted non-academic activities (I took 10 credit hours; technically I wasn’t even a full time student, but there was a loophole for second semester seniors), I decided to put my formidable intellect to work making some cash for the real world.
One day, one of my fraternity brothers approached me with a proposition: he wanted to make fake IDs, and needed a tech-savvy partner to do it with. There’s some irony in that I never had a fake ID, nor ever had any interest in one when I was underage; being overage, I had no use for one. However, I knew plenty of people that had had them, saw how terrible they were, and couldn’t believe that they were making it past the bouncers at the bars with those things. I knew I could do it better, so I accepted.
Over the next few weeks, we hammered out our process. We bought a card printer. We bought the right kind of ID cards. We built a template in Photoshop. We figured out how to put our client’s pictures into the template. We figured out how to duplicate the UV-sensitive and holographic state seal stamps. We kept it secret from our friends, our families, our fraternity brothers, only letting in a small number of “bundlers,” people that had connections that could deliver us lots of potential clients.
Finally, after a few false starts, we had an ID we felt comfortable selling, something that we felt was good enough to fool most of the bouncers in our college town. We sat down with our bundlers, and asked for volunteers to test them. When they saw the finished product, there was no shortage of volunteers. We made a handful, and told our little guinea pigs to try them out and report back.
It was a Saturday night. I remember sitting in my room with my partner, pacing, biting my nails, waiting to get texts from our testers. 10 o’clock came and went. 11 o’clock came and went. At 11:41 we got our first text: “It worked.” Over the next few hours, the texts kept coming. One after another, our IDs beat the bouncers. They even worked at the toughest bar in town, legendary for having a book of fakes and especially jaded bouncers. We celebrated, rolled up our sleeves, and got ready to make some money.
Our bundlers didn’t let us down. They delivered sororities and dorms to our doorstep. We lived near campus, so getting our clients to us was never an issue. One interesting thing I still remember: we had almost no male clients. They were overwhelmingly female. We were making literally thousands of dollars a week. We covered our initial expenses in one night. We had a waiting list. We were kings. We were hot shit.
After a few weeks, we started to hear rumors. The bouncers were wising up. One by one, they stopped working at certain bars. They were getting confiscated. This was when I started to get nervous. Every time I would hear a siren, I was convinced it the police, and they were coming for me. My partner and I ran drills to see how fast we could “sanitize” our rooms. We got paranoid, made sure to never keep all the equipment together in one place. I barely slept. I didn’t eat much. I bit my fingernails down to the quick, then started chewing on toothpicks, just so I wouldn’t grind my teeth (a habit I carry to this day). The stress was killing me.
The turning point was one night where one of our bundlers called us. She told us that the bouncer had taken her ID and said “If I see another one of these damn IDs, I’m calling the fucking cops.” We knew the gig was up. We called our bundlers, told them we were out, finished our last orders, and cleaned house. We sold our equipment on eBay, divided the cash, and went our separate ways.
Truthfully, we probably could have operated longer than we did, but we knew that it was only a matter of time before we got caught. We actually had a close call near the end. A fraternity brother of ours got pulled over for a DUI and handed the arresting officer his fake ID. We were sure that the cops were going to knock on our door any day, but they never came.
All told, from the day we sold our first ID to the day we split up the cash, we spent roughly $1000 in materials, and earned $14,000. My partner used his share to go to Las Vegas for spring break. I used mine to put a down payment on a new car, after mine was totaled in an accident late that year. That money was my first month’s rent and my security deposit for my first post-college apartment. It moved me to another state, and paid my bills until I started my first post-college job.
Infrared Counting photon Infrared Single Single System photon Counting If you asked me “If you could go back in time and have the option to do it again, would you?”, I’d say yes. I put myself in a terrible situation, and could have been arrested and had my future trashed, but I wasn’t. I was smart, I was careful, and most importantly, I knew when to get out. It taught me the value of risk versus reward. There’s a reason it was so easy to make so much money: the stakes were absurdly high. I ran the very real risk of having my future ended before it began. Ultimately though, the fat stacks of cash I made made it worth it.
To this day I still play around in Photoshop, and I can trace the roots of a lot of the techniques I use to things I picked up making IDs.
The experience gave me a new appreciation for law enforcement. Stupid criminals are easy to catch, because they’re not smart or careful, and they’re greedy. Smart criminals are the ones that keep them up at nights. People like me, that plan carefully, that take every precaution, and that know when it’s time to quit.
To this day, I still haven’t told my family. I doubt I ever will. In a bit of a coincidence, I found out later that in college, one of my uncles sold drugs, despite never actually taking drugs himself. He just did it for the cash.
Today, I live on the opposite side of the fence. I work in IT risk management, and spend my work days trying to outsmart people just like I was at 22. My boss occasionally remarks how I seem to have a natural aptitude for figuring out how someone might attack a system, and I just smile and shrug and reply “What can I say? It’s a gift.”