Verification of age in parcels – who is responsible?

We all know that there are certain products or services which only adults over the age of 18 can buy. Minors can try going down to the supermarket to buy alcohol or cigarettes, but are likely to be challenged if they can’t prove their age. One disadvantage with the internet when it comes to online shopping, is that this is not so easy, and increasing numbers of minors are being able to purchase goods which should be for 18 + adults, by literally being able to hide behind a computer screen. In our latest article, we’ll take a closer look at this problem.

What are the main products or services that this applies to?

It actually applies to more products than you think. Many are aware there are age restrictions on alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling, but it does apply to a bigger range of other circumstances including:

* Medicines.

* Films / DVDs with 12, 15 or 18 certification.

* Dating / relationships sites.

* Fireworks.

* Knifes or sharps.

Some recent studies have found that 15% of 14- and 15-year-olds have purchased alcohol online, whilst others have purchased knifes. and been able to by-pass age checks. by simply leaving a note for the courier to say they are out.

Couriers are required to check that restricted goods do not end up in minors hands at the point of delivery. Many argue that this is out of the couriers’ job remit and more emphasis should be placed on internet sites / shops for checking out the age of their customers. Remember that some couriers work as third parties or agents for online companies, and will therefore not have knowledge about the products they are delivering.

There appears to be a wide range of interpretation in what constitutes satisfying age checking requirements for online purchases, and this leads to too much flexibility in the rules, which is leaving loopholes.

For example, a retailer can have a simple tick box on their website, where the user confirms they are over 18. Clearly, anyone could then tick that box and there is no way a check can be carried out to prove the user is over 18, or that the date of birth which may have been entered is indeed honest. Courts have ruled on these types of situations, and they are deemed to be insufficient for verification purposes. Remember that it is a legal requirement for underage products not to be sold to minors, and in worst cases, breaches of this could lead to convictions, fines or even prison sentences.

There are other ways that age can be checked online including:

* Through the electoral register.

* Verification through a credit card.

* Requiring the customer to send a copy of their passport, driving licence etc.

These too are not totally perfect options (e.g. someone else’s passport could be sent,) and it therefore leaves the area of law and practice very unclear.

Many couriers feel that their age verification checks should be a double check, rather than the only actual reliance. It is clear that the rules need to change to become much clearer, along with giving the online retailer more responsibility for checking in the first place.

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