Age Verification – A Duty of Online Retailers to Monitor Under-age Sales

Age-related products are such products that require their consumers to be of a certain age. Such sales that include age-restricted products are called age-restricted sales. When people buy things face-to-face, it becomes easy for retailers to verify their age. This isn’t the case during the purchase of products on the internet. Some of the age-restricted industries include gaming, betting, alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, knives, weapons, adult sites, etc. Since children these days are active on the internet, it raises some serious concerns for parents. The inquisitive nature of kids to examine everything online is descending them in a dark pit divulging in prohibited activities.

According to NHS survey of smoking, drinking and drug use among school children (11 to 15-year-olds) in England -in 2016, three percent said they were regular smokers, 74 percent said they find it very hard to give up smoking and 6 percent said they were currently daily e-cigarette smokers. 

The Duty of Online Retailers

Age restriction is put there for a reason and it is to protect the underage consumers from potentially harmful substances. Due to this reason, it becomes the duty of retailers to protect minors from accessing age-related products. All businesses that sell age-restricted products or services are legally responsible for determining the age of their consumers. 

If they sell their products to an underage customer, they face penalties or even incarceration. According to the Digital Economy Act 2017, the commercially operated age-restricted websites must guarantee that their users are 18+. In the case of failure to comply, the regulators are authorized to fine them up to £250,000 (or up to 5% of their turnover) and order the blocking of non-compliant websites.

What can Retailers Do? 

Since it falls on the retailers to verify the age of their consumers, it is their duty to put such systems in place that will determine the age of the customer. Such age verification systems should be capable of verifying the age of potential purchasers to guarantee that they are above the minimum legal age to buy that product. These systems should be constantly monitored and updated with every new update. This will help in identifying and resolving any issues or flaws in the system and in keeping pace with the improvements in said systems. 

Steps Unlikely to satisfy “Due Diligence”

Retailers should take proper steps to ensure the age of their customers. There are some examples that are not enough for retailers to verify the age of their consumers. Some of them include: 

  • Relying on the buyer to confirm if they are of legal age
  • Asking only the date of birth at the time of purchase
  • Use of tick boxes to ask buyers to confirm they are of age
  • Use of an ‘accept’ statement for the purchaser to confirm that they have read the terms and conditions and are over the minimum age

There are other ways that do not satisfy due diligence. This makes it important for retailers to have proper age verification services put in place. 

Age verification services (AVS)

There are plenty of age verification services available for businesses to put in place. Age verification software works as an additional protective layer to the business. AVS is a combination of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, and machine learning to verify the age of consumers. Due to these technologies, the results of the software are almost always accurate. The process works by first capturing the ID document and then extracting the data through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. The data and documents are then verified in real-time. Due to age verification services, it becomes almost impossible for minors to use their parents’ IDs or use fake IDs to access age-restricted websites and businesses. 

Age Verification at The Time of Delivery 

Although online age verification protects minors from accessing age-restricted products, caution should also be taken at the time of delivering such products. At the time of delivery, the person who accepts the products should also be asked to prove their age. In case if the age couldn’t be verified, the person shouldn’t be given the products. 

Online age verification services can help in alleviating the concerns of parents regarding their children’s online activity. Also, it is surely in the interest of businesses to maintain a trustworthy image of their business. 


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