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Fake ID or Real ID? Spot the difference

An amateur’s guide to spotting a fake ID.

Identity Documents (ID) in the form of Driving Licences, Passports, Military ID and other less prevalent ID schemes all exist for one main purpose – to confirm that the cardholder has certain privileges, rights or attributes.

So for example a driving licence confirms that you’re able to drive a vehicle, a passport allows you to enter and exit countries. There are also secondary uses of identity documents such as KYC (Know Your Customer) allow third parties such as an online bank or poker site confirm that your email address, phone number etc can be reliably tied to a real world identity. Age restricted products such as drugs, alcohol, knives and admission to events or venues are another secondary use of Identity Documents.

You prove your credentials using an Identity Document.

For these reasons, it’s important that any ID is secure and immune to any counterfeiting attempt.

Counterfeiting is the process of replicating any official Identity Document with the intent to deceive a third party into thinking the document is the genuine article.

There are numerous ways to prevent or thwart such counterfeiting attempts.

The primary method is to detect, identify and prosecute any individuals breaking the law by counterfeiting or aiding in the production of exact replicas of Identity Documents.

The secondary method is to make any effort to create an exact reproduction of Driving Licences, Passports and other documents incredibly difficult, expensive and ultimately ineffective.

In this section, we’ll analyse the structure of a UK issued Driving Licence, the features used to prevent accurate replication, and how you can identify a real Driving Licence as opposed to a fake one.

Difference 1 : Card Body – polycarbonate or PVC

Genuine Document

UK Issued Driving Licences are made of polycarbonate, which is a tough yet flexible material, capable of receiving a full colour print as well as laser engraving. Previous to 2006, cards were printed on Teslin, which is a more flexible material.

Fake Document

It is difficult for a counterfeiter to obtain polycarbonate card stock. PVC is more readily available and is compatible with all commercially available card printers.

How to tell the difference :

A polycarbonate card is rigid, completely flat and will make a distinctive, metallic or hollow rattle when dropped onto a hard surface. Polycarbonate driving licences are laser engraved which gives the card a tactile surface of ridges, raised lettering and numbering.

PVC cards, if printed using a retransfer process will be slightly curved. The card will be more flexible than a polycarbonate equivalent.

Difference 2 : Detail & Colour Reproduction

Genuine Document

The genuine UK Driving Licence starts off as a pre-printed blank template licence. This is printed using a lithographic process which is very detailed, finely printed, and intricate. Any static details (that is, details that do not change from card to card) are pre-printed to a very high standard. A colour gradient between blue and pink is used as it is very easy to detect a variance in this range, but very difficult to accurately reproduce for a counterfeiter.

The artwork of the licence is incredibly detailed, with microtext invisible to the naked eye, difficult to reproduce guilloche elements and other tried-and-tested anti-counterfeit design features.

Fake Document

Most licence counterfeiters cannot afford the technology or upfront investment to create a stock of blank template licences. Instead, they will use inferior desktop printers to print the entire card image including photo and details onto the card.

Any desktop card printer, even the most expensive available on the market at prices of up to £15000 will not be able to replicate the detail and colour range of the original UK Driving Licence card.

How to tell the difference :

Placing any counterfeit or fake UK driving licence beside a real one and it will become immediately apparent how difficult it is to accurately reproduce the colour depth and range of the original.

Gradients and fine detail will appear blurred. Text and details will be indistinct, usually with bleeding of colours into the background.

Difference 3 : Security Features

Genuine Document

The real deal UK driving licence is designed by experienced Identity Document producers, who add security features both overt and covert so that it is impossible to accurately replicate the card.

The following features are either very difficult or very expensive to reproduce for even the most well-resourced fake ID manufacturer.

Feature

Real Document

Fake Document

Laser Engraving

Details such as name, address and other credentials are burned onto the card surface using a high-precision laser.

Text will be engraved in a crisp, dark black special typeface with custom letters such as A, E, S.

Some elements such as the cardholder surname will be etched in raised text.

Text will be printed in a flat near black standard typeface.

Some attempt to laser engrave using a desktop fibre laser.

Lack of accuracy and improper card material mean that the “raised” text can frequently be scratched off.

Optically Variable Image

Various elements are printed in a colour changing ink.

Steering Wheel Icon and Some other small elements are printed using a proprietary ink which changes colour when tilted towards a light source.

If printing using a desktop printer, it will not be possible for a counterfeiter to replicate this effect.

Some attempt to make pre-printed templates with off-the-shelf inks, but the effect is not the same.

Hologram Overlay

A transparent layer that is applied to the card once the details have been added.

Extremely detailed elements such as steering wheel speedometer and road will move and change when the card is tilted.

Counterfeiters cannot replicate this feature accurately, instead relying on stickers which are applied to the card by hand.

Any inspection of a real vs fake driving licence and this limitation will be immediately noticeable.

Ultraviolet Elements

A detailed road and crest image is printed in multicolour ultraviolet inks, revealed only when the card is exposed to UV light.

The detail of the ultraviolet elements is reproduced in different colours and is consistently printed on the template blank.

This feature is difficult but not impossible to replicate if the counterfeiter is using a preprinted template blank.

How to tell the difference :

Most, if not all fake UK driving licences are immediately detectable if compared to the genuine article side-by-side. The fake cards look, feel, sound and even weigh different to the originals.

If you are unsure at any stage as to the veracity of the driving licence presented to you, you should examine the card carefully to compare a real one to a fake one.

More Information & Videos

Watch this 25 Simple ways to test if an ID is real or fake video

It’s OK, reviews the most pertinent ways to detect a fake.

Video on Microprint

Explains how to detect fake IDs by comparing the microprint on the card print

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