How do scannable fake IDs work?

ID being authenticated with ultraviolet light

Last updated on November 30th, 2023 at 03:17 pm

How do scannable fake IDs work? Before we answer that question, it is important to understand how IDs store information. Arguably the most important feature of the modern ID and driver’s license is the PDF417 barcode. This strip contains a plethora of information, such as:

These fields are all categorized as PII – information that can be used to identify a person. The vast majority of ID scanning solutions and ID scanning hardware utilize the 2D barcode to verify age and identity. The 2D barcode is also used for parsing IDs into software such as CRMs or POS, since each field can be uniquely identified. By scanning the 2D barcode on the back of the ID, ID scanning software scan instantly read this PII data, check the date of birth against today’s date, and check the ID expiration date.

Back of Colorado driver's license
Sample back of an ID showing the 2D barcode at the bottom of the ID

Most IDs also feature a 1D Barcode that contains the state code and ID number. And some still contain a magstripe, though this is considered an inferior symbology and is being phased out in many states.

What does it mean for a fake ID to “scan”?

Simply put, a fake ID is scannable if it can be scanned by 2D barcode scanning/parsing software. So all that is required for a scannable fake ID to work is for the barcode to be formatted in a readable way. This is fairly easy. A fake ID manufacturer can use an existing ID with a working barcode and add new information to the front of the ID. Or they can make an exact copy of a barcode they know works. These are two easy, common ways to make a scannable fake ID with little effort.

Front/back matching

Almost equally as important as the PDF417 barcode is all the information printed in the front of the ID card. In a perfect world, all of the information stored in the PDF417 and 1D barcode would match the information printed on the front of the card, but that is where fake IDs can stand out.

When criminals that create fake IDs market their IDs, they obviously want to market them as “scannable fake IDs”, because without that function, they might as well be useless. But, it is much easier to print the information on the front of a fake ID than it is to forge a PDF417 and 1D barcode. For that reason, when these “creators” purchase fake IDs to forge for other people, they often buy real IDs that have already been encoded with information in the PDF417 and 1D barcodes. They simply reprint the information on the front of the card to match the, often underage, person buying the fake ID. So how can you tell if the information doesn’t match?

This is where ID Scanning technology comes into play. By using an ID Scanning/Parsing software, an ID scanner can read the information that has been encoded in the barcodes while simultaneously taking a picture of the front. By using OCR (Optical Character Recognition), the software compares the picture and characters on the front of the ID to the information encoded in the back, and if those bits of information don’t match up, the ID is almost always fake. Now, that is not to say that the software will catch fake IDs 100% of the time, because that is impossible, but with the right technology, your business can do its part to cut down on fake ID use while ensuring compliance.

2D barcode security checks

Front/back matching is one way to catch low-effort fake IDs that are just re-using an existing 2D barcode.

Recently, advances in AI have allowed us to perform checks on the barcode itself that help look for “easter eggs” that can indicate an ID is fraudulent, or at least suspicious. A few generic examples of these “tells”:

  • In Idaho, they use the code “BWN” to indicate that the ID holder has brown eyes. If we scan an Idaho ID that is using “BRN” in the field for Eye Color, that is a good indication that the ID is fake.
  • Different states have different orders in which they store the information in the ID. Some states may store first name, last name. Some states may store last name, first name. We know the correct order for each state and so can flag IDs which have data formats that do not conform to known standards.

Because we feed hundreds of thousands of IDs through our ID scanning software on a monthly basis, we train our AI to detect patterns in the 2D barcode and catch these micro-flaws. On average, we are performing hundreds of 2D barcode security checks on every ID that is scanned, allowing us to catch some fakes even without authentication hardware.

Lighting checks

ID being scanned under infrared light

In addition to the Barcode vs OCR comparison, another security measure that can be harder to forge is the addition of UV Ink. This security feature is specialized to hide state specific text and images on an ID that can only be seen in specific lighting. Cue infrared, ultraviolet, and white light scanning. A scanner like the E-Seek M500, in conjunction with our software, scans the ID at three different light wavelengths in order to check for the addition of these security features. If the scanner/software does not detect the UV Ink, the ID in question is likely a fake.

Holograms and watermarks

ID authentication under ultraviolet light

Holograms and/or Watermarks can be one final test of an IDs legitimacy. This feature creates a 3D effect that can be seen on flat surfaces. To create this effect, the image is made using nanostructures that will refract light in a specific way, thus making the 2D image appear 3D. This feature is hard for criminals to forge because this technique can only be done using highly specialized lab equipment. That being said, it is possible to create a simple hologram, but again, this is where a hardware and software combination comes into play. The E-Seek M500 can use the UV light previously discussed and look at the hologram in detail. So much so, that when combined with our software, it can tell you if the hologram is the wrong one for the state in question.


If you’re interested in learning more about how our ID Authentication can help protect your business against fake ID use, be sure to contact one of our industry experts.