20110920 fake id
The U.S. Border Patrol displays false identification cards, including fake Social Security cards and drivers licenses that they have confiscated over the last few years in Deming, N.M. - 

It's no secret by now that Chinese counterfeiters
are the source of many pirated goods here --
from fake Gucci bags to illegally copied DVDs.

But there's a new kind of knock-off making its way from China these days. It seems many in the underage crowd are shelling out their allowance for Chinese-made fake IDs. From WBEZ in Chicago, Tony Arnold reports.

TONY ARNOLD: So I'm here at my computer. I've got a search window up and I'm typing "Buy fake IDs from..." and Google's auto-fill finishes my thought with "from China." It turns out there are any number of websites that offer fake IDs for many of the 50 states. They cost around a hundred bucks. And like other Chinese knock-offs, they're really hard to tell from the original.

MIKE RANKIN: It would take more of a forensic analysis to really detect the fake ID.

Mike Rankin is with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He says customs officials in his state and others have seized thousands of fake IDs from China. Here in Chicago, the number is 1,700 so far this year. Many of the fakes have the same holograms and watermarks states use to ensure authenticity.

RANKIN: It's not just for underage drinking any more. I think it's for persons trying to facilitate a range of fraudulent conduct -- whether it be illegal immigration, obtaining credit.

High-quality printing is a specialty of Chinese counterfeiters, says Chris Bailey. He works in Guangzhou, China, with the company Rouse -- a firm that focuses on intellectual property rights.

CHRIS BAILEY: The counterfeiters want repeat business. They want to be able to sell their products.

Bailey says some companies in China's industrial printing sector have long used their facilities for counterfeits, like packaging for knock-off cigarettes or medicines. It takes the counterfeiters little time to figure out how to make realistic-looking fakes.

BAILEY: Sometimes it's a matter of months, really.

The Chinese government doesn't condone counterfeiting, Bailey says, yet does little to stop it either. But is there always a market for a realistic-looking Illinois driver license courtesy of a factory in Guangdong province?

To find out, I met talked to 20-year-old Michelle, who agreed to meet at a diner to talk about fake IDs -- as long as I didn't use her full name. She's had four fake IDs and they haven't come cheap.

MICHELLE: It was like $100. For that, like, fake fake, another $100. For -- oh, maybe I have spent more than, like, $300 at this point.

As a result of all the risks involved in using a fake -- Michelle has rules for when to use it. No liquor stores. No grocery stores. Just use it to get into clubs. Michelle's other rule about fake IDs: get them from a known source. That's why she says she's not interested in buying a fake Chinese ID online.

ARNOLD: They're supposed to be really good.

MICHELLE: That's what I hear. That's what I hear. Apparently, they're, like, really legitimate. But, quite honestly, I don't want to mess with that. No.

Michelle says she wasn't comfortable sharing personal information online -- and she convinced her friends to back out, too. In the meantime, she's getting by with her current fake until her 21st birthday.

In Chicago, I'm Tony Arnold for Marketplace.