Teens arrested for buying fake IDs from China

 
Associated Press
Updated 7/22/2011 8:18 PM
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  • This photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Office shows a counterfeit driver's license hidden inside a game shipped from China. At a news conference Friday in Chicago, Sheriff Tom Dart said 1,700 counterfeit drivers's licenses were seized by Customs agents after being shipped earlier this year from China. Dart said 40 young people between the ages of 17 and 20 years old have been charged with buying the fake IDs.

    This photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Office shows a counterfeit driver's license hidden inside a game shipped from China. At a news conference Friday in Chicago, Sheriff Tom Dart said 1,700 counterfeit drivers's licenses were seized by Customs agents after being shipped earlier this year from China. Dart said 40 young people between the ages of 17 and 20 years old have been charged with buying the fake IDs. Associated Press

Some Chicago area high school and college students who bought fake IDs from China over the Internet got more than they bargained for when detectives knocked on their doors with some doubly bad news: Not only were they being arrested, but they might have given crooks more than enough information to steal their identities.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Friday that the arrests of 40 young people on misdemeanor charges over the last few weeks stemmed from a seizure earlier this year of 1,700 counterfeit driver's licenses at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that had been shipped from China.

He said during a news conference that the licenses seized had been hidden inside boxes of jewelry, toys and even a webcam and were bound for a handful of addresses in Chicago and the suburbs before being distributed to the young people who paid between $75 and $100 for them. He said the fakes were of "incredibly high quality" and even had the same kinds of markings, including water marks, that are on real licenses.

The young people, between 17 and 20 years old, were easy to track down, in large part because they were not as careful to change their names as they were birthdates and addresses. Some even chose to buy fake licenses for states other than Illinois -- South Dakota and Wisconsin among them.

Those who were arrested could have been charged with a felony. But Dart said they were issued citations for the misdemeanor charge of attempting to possess a fraudulent driver's license, ordered to serve 25 hours community service and, in some cases, fined.

The sheriff also suggested the charges might have been the least of their worries. Besides risking the loss of their licenses for a year or more, the sheriff said the young defendants put themselves and their families at risk of identity theft and losing finances.

He said his office regularly investigates cases in which criminals -- sometimes with just a name and a date of birth -- steal identities and gain access to people's bank accounts.

But these young people were providing a lot more information, authorities said, paying with credit cards and providing their signatures, photographs and sometimes even more information about themselves.

"It's sort of a financial manipulator's dream come true," Dart said. "Kids who are anxious to illegally get alcohol are willing to give away everything."

He said the number of counterfeit licenses coming from China has increased dramatically in recent months and that he expected those numbers to go up even more -- in large part because it is difficult to convince websites to act responsibly and even harder to shut them down, particularly those that are overseas.

"The websites operate within their own world as far as rules that apply to the rest of us," said the sheriff, who pointed to his own battle with Craigslist over its erotic ads that lasted years before the site removed its adult services section. "This bizarre notion that there's some type of corporate responsibility doesn't exist."

As for the site that sold the fake IDs to the 40 young people who were arrested, Dart said it was still operating.