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Susan Dworak: “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be”

…Technology is built by humans and it can be scammed by humans. The gatekeepers confirming identity need a resource to understand exactly how each technology is scammed so they can protect themselves, their companies, and their communities. When one human is giving a mind-altering product like alcohol, cannabis, or pharmaceuticals to another human, the human […]

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…Technology is built by humans and it can be scammed by humans. The gatekeepers confirming identity need a resource to understand exactly how each technology is scammed so they can protect themselves, their companies, and their communities. When one human is giving a mind-altering product like alcohol, cannabis, or pharmaceuticals to another human, the human providing the product must confirm the age or identity of the person receiving the product. It’s that simple. Some products are regulated for a reason. We built ID.TRAINING to create awareness, help with regulation, and change the way America checks IDs.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Fenimore Dworak.

Susan Fenimore Dworak is the CEO of Real Identities, a team of legal and tech experts based in Silicon Valley that works nationwide to present current, detailed images and information about real and fake IDs. As a regulatory analyst and legal compliance expert who spent her career at the nation’s largest law firms, Susan teaches companies how to navigate and comply with complex legal landscapes that require companies to check ID and confirm identity. Susan has taught thousands of people in law enforcement and private industry, including attorneys, officers, directors, managers, and frontline staff, for more than 25 years and has coordinated and provided instruction for training programs in multiple industries from startups to the largest public companies. Susan has a BA in Political Science from UCLA and a JD from Santa Clara University School of Law. She is a Nasdaq Milestone Maker and a Draper University Startup Hero.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

About 5 years ago when I was reading some legal journals (yes, I consider that fun), I ran across some staggering figures. Countless companies had surrendered tens of millions in legal fees, all for actions related to non-compliance. Annually? Tens of millions? Not for research and development, but for legal fees associated with noncompliance. How did all of this damage happen? Digging deeper, I found one root cause in this financial sieve: Fake IDs. I kept digging. I was struck by the depth and swiftness with which fake IDs cause serious legal, financial, and social consequences. Businesses shuttered, jobs lost, funding lost, lives shattered. I made a discovery: Despite claims to the contrary, frontline staff were not properly trained to check IDs or spot fake IDs. How could multinational, billion-dollar brands leave this level of risk in the hands of untrained frontline staff, creating literally tens of millions in legal fees and even more in liability, I wondered? That’s why I started my company, Real Identities. I found that the methods used to “train” gatekeepers — scanners, books, and trainings — were really not training people at all. Scanners don’t work because fake IDs are built to fool scanners, even TSA and police scanners. Scanners do nothing more than read an ID. They cannot validate or authenticate an ID. Even if a scanner pings a database, it’s simply noting that someone with that name and ID number is in a system. It in no way proves that the ID is real or that it belongs to the person using it. Books have a limited number of IDs and are outdated by the time they go to print. Trainings cover a fraction of IDs in mere minutes, and when people walk out the door of a live training or click off an online training, there is no way they can memorize hundreds of IDs. Moreover, they won’t know the new IDs that change frequently. People who check ID need access to clear, current, and correct IDs, so we built ID.TRAINING.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Early on, when conducting concept feasibility studies, we traveled to various conferences to do some due diligence. At breakout sessions, we would listen to marketing and tech personnel, C-suite executives, and even attorneys from ID scanner companies evangelize the newfound ease with which frontline gatekeepers could basically ignore regulatory requirements for properly and thoroughly checking ID by simply sliding an ID through a scanner. In the audience, government employees and business owners would listen in awe, believing they could actually confirm age and identity by sliding a piece of plastic (an ID) through a slot (an ID scanner) or scanning it into someone’s personal cell phone. After all, said the evangelists, the scanner’s “proprietary algorithm authenticated and validated any ID.” It was all I could do not to jump out of my seat and scream, “Fraud!” These marketing representations in no way matched the fine print of the company’s terms and conditions (e.g., software may not be updated, hardware has vulnerabilities, scanner will not catch all fake IDs, user must confirm secure network connection, etc.). That kind of misrepresentation really gets me fired up, and I highly recommend that anyone even considering the use of an ID scanner read the fine print and pay special attention to disclaimers and warranties. Don’t get me wrong here, as I commend any effort to prevent the use of fake IDs, but I do not commend knowingly misleading people. My point? Do your due diligence so you know exactly what you are and are not buying. No one will be standing beside you evangelizing the benefits of ID scanners when you’re explaining to the judge why you didn’t comply with regulations by properly and thoroughly checking an ID.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was traveling to many cities to discuss with stakeholders the protection and prevention the app provides and speaking about the need to change the way people in this country check ID. After one presentation I was offered a game-changing opportunity, but to accept, I had to submit a proposal that afternoon by 5:00 PM to meet their deadline. That gave me mere hours, and I still had to finish the conference, check out of the hotel, and fight traffic to the airport. I raced to the airport, thinking not only of the deadline for this grand opportunity but also a networking event later that evening. I had to arrive looking at least presentable. It was a very hot and humid day, and the humidity took it out of me — makeup melting down my face, my hair so frizzy I looked like a wet sheep. I’ll run into the airport bathroom when I land, I thought. However, my free time was consumed by long security lines and repeated gate changes. I was now a sweaty mess. It seemed the travel gods were conspiring against me. It got worse. I was running out of power, and the plane I boarded had no way to charge devices. Even worse, the flight was delayed. I had to finish the deadline and get to my meeting by 5:00. By the time the plane landed, I was on 5% laptop battery. The late landing was cutting it all too close. I figured at least I could charge my phone in an Uber and get to the hotel where I could plug in and finish the last few sentences. The Uber waits were horrendous so I queued in the taxi line. I had only 4% battery. Missing this deadline was not an option. The cab dove headlong into the internet-crushing tunnels of New York City and promptly hit dead-stop traffic. Only 3% battery. Keep working, keep typing, almost done, I thought. Emerging into daylight literally minutes before 5:00, eeking out a sketchy connection on my cell phone hotspot with only 2% laptop battery to spare, I peered wildly out the taxi window, looking for an exterior outlet. Any outlet. Anywhere. Only 1% battery. Then, I saw it. There it was, just outside the door of a random hotel — an outlet! “Stop, please! There!” I yelled, pointing toward the hotel door with half of my body now extended outside the cab window. The driver took a screeching turn into the valet line and came to a slow roll. Cab still moving, I leapt from the door, plug in hand with prongs forward as if I were wielding a knife, running wild-eyed like a maniac toward the marble wall of this random hotel, breathless, counting the seconds. I plunged the prongs into the socket, and — and — and — yes! It’s live. I added my signature and hit the send button! “Boom!” I screamed, throwing my head back in victory. As I regained consciousness, I slowly lowered my head to see a legion of impeccably dressed hotel guests staring at me, mouths agape. Consumed with my victory, I smiled widely and pranced back to the cab, hopped in, and drove past the crowd, still smiling, sheepishly waving. Final note: The submitted proposal was accepted, and it was a game-changer, and to this day I still envision myself as a wet and wild-eyed sheep from that experience!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The Las Vegas shooter checked into the hotel with a fake ID. The Oklahoma City bomber rented the truck with a fake ID. The 9/11 terrorists took flight lessons and boarded their infamous flights with fake IDs. I founded Real Identities to prevent the legal, financial, and unspeakable social consequences caused by fake IDs. Our mission is saving lives and livelihoods — to stop the fake IDs used in many crimes, including access to regulated products such as alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, firearms, and pharmaceuticals. No more excuses. ID.TRAINING is the new industry and legal standard. “I don’t have time,” “I don’t know what to look for on IDs,” and “I just use a scanner” are no longer acceptable answers, and they are most definitely not acceptable legal defenses. As a social responsibility company at our core, we empower and upskill millions of frontline workers required by law to check ID in their positions as gatekeepers to help them protect themselves, their companies and agencies, and their communities. We’ve made great progress; we look forward to multiplying the impact by extending the reach of our efforts, and we hope everyone reading this will help us spread the word.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We’re empowering and upskilling people who check ID in a multitude of industries, so our impact happens more on a group level. We’ve trained hundreds of people.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, awareness. Government agencies and employees must be aware that current solutions are not working, and that technology described with impressive terms is not always impressive, and that technology is not always the answer. Second, regulation. Regulators can better understand unintended consequences when they increase their individual and collective knowledge of how ID scanner technology works and does not work given the numerous vulnerabilities (and there are always vulnerabilities). Third, change. We must change how identity is confirmed in this country, and focus on our specific needs through our own social, political, and legal lenses. Many of the ID technologies used in other countries won’t work here for countless reasons related to constitutional rights, federal and state laws, and so much more.

Bringing those three things together, technology is built by humans and it can be scammed by humans. The gatekeepers confirming identity need a resource to understand exactly how each technology is scammed so they can protect themselves, their companies, and their communities. When one human is giving a mind-altering product like alcohol, cannabis, or pharmaceuticals to another human, the human providing the product must confirm the age or identity of the person receiving the product. It’s that simple. Some products are regulated for a reason. We built ID.TRAINING to create awareness, help with regulation, and change the way America checks IDs.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is tapping into the expertise of each individual and collectively empowering them to make an impact as a group. Crucial to the success at Real Identities is our team of great people, each of whom brings different expertise, experiences, approaches, and skills. What has been valuable beyond measure is who they are as people — their commitment not only to creating an incredible team, but also to being good individuals. I am honored to bring these people together, nurturing and highlighting their strengths, and creating an environment and culture where we can create real solutions.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone would have empowered me at a much younger age, and when I first started i wish they would have told me the following five bits of advice:

  1. Find balance. I learned to set boundaries so I could perform at my peak and produce a tremendous amount of work while still achieving work-life balance. It can be done, if you set boundaries. I learned the hard way that working too much and trying to meet never-ending demands is less than productive. It’s unproductive — for everyone.
  2. Keep climbing. Establishing a startup is not like climbing a mountain, it’s like climbing the entire mountain range — without sherpas. I learned that I won’t always have a support network, so I need to be prepared to carry my own load, even when I was depending on others to do so. I also learned to enjoy every step of the journey — the successes and the failures — and I learned to turn around to appreciate the view and see just how far I had come.
  3. Stay strong. As they say, don’t get ready, stay ready. I learned to take care of myself. I workout 5 to 6 days a week to train for sprint triathlons, and I never give up workout time. Phone down. Computer off. Complete, 100% focus on improving my strength. The discipline of carving out my own time gives me the resilience needed to conquer my mountain range, climbing peaks and leaping crevasses.
  4. Keep going. You’ll hear “no” more than you’ll hear “yes.” Keep going. Never give up. Don’t let other people tell you when to stop, and don’t stop until you’ve reached your goal.
  5. Pivot. Sometimes you can’t see over certain hilltops, and you’ll realize that this is not the right path to the next peak. It’s good to reassess. When an avalanche like COVID roars down the mountain, you must pivot, study the new terrain, and continue climbing in a new direction. Never give up. Keep climbing and enjoy the journey!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I started Real Identities exactly to start a movement — one that will inspire, motivate, empower, and upskill millions of people to each have great social impact. We’re creating heroes. Changing the way American businesses check ID won’t just lead to less financial risks for businesses, but will also create safer communities. The possibilities are endless! And everyone has their part to play in building a world that saves lives and livelihoods. With ID.TRAINING, we hope to get everyone on board our movement, so they know exactly what they can do to protect themselves, their businesses, and their communities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be. — Maya Angelou

Women in America are bombarded with media influence on gender stereotypes, told how to behave, how to look, and even how to feel. As a result, women may try to fit in and be “normal” to be accepted. Messages tell women not to stand out, not to make noise, not to subvert expectations. Women should be “soft.” Soft in appearance. Soft in voice. Soft in presence. The messages create societal constraints that generate fear and other emotions that paralyze brilliance and innovation. I refuse to listen to this nonsense, and I refuse to conform. Ladies, I have a message: You can be both strong and feminine; you can be both powerful and feminine; you can be both dominant and feminine. Strength, power, and dominance are not restricted to the males of any species. Every woman has the ability to be amazing, and when we allow external messages to suppress, we squander opportunity by trying to be less than our amazing selves. Shed your fears. Launch! Soar!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d relish a private audience with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, not only because she is a US Supreme Court justice (only the second woman to be appointed to the position), but because she was the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU where she arduously argued six landmark cases on gender equality in the US Supreme Court. She changed the course of American history and changed our justice system. She both zealously and elegantly represents women, demanding equal rights. I’d like to ask her about her passion and her fearlessness and have a deep conversation about her opinions on the trajectory of equal rights in this country.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please visit us at www.ID.TRAINING

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ID.TRAINING

Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/susandworak

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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