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Online alcohol sales “needs stricter rules”

Selling alcohol online needs more stringent checks, claims a leading identity management group, after researchers found evidence that several websites sold alcohol in which age checks were virtually non-existent.

“To give online retailers the best chance of stopping underage teenagers buying alcohol they need to put stringent identity verification solutions in place at the point of purchase. Only then can they trade on a daily basis safe in the knowledge that their customers are who they say they are,” Lucas Hopkins, client manager at GB Group told the drinks business.

The study by the University of Plymouth entitled “Checked out: the role of ID checks in controlling underage drinking” warned that crackdowns from retailers on illegal purchases of alcohol had prompted a “shift in the way underage drinkers are getting hold of booze”.

Online retailers were now a “key potential source” of alcohol for underage drinkers, as it presented many with an opportunity to “circumvent the stricter alcohol policies now in place in many high street retailers”.

“Teenagers can be very creative when finding ways to exploit weaknesses in processes and are often more technically aware than their parents or guardians. With so much now available for purchase online, it is no surprise that the University of Plymouth has discovered more and more teenagers are attempting to buy alcohol online. Online transactions lack the obvious visual clues to an individual’s age,” added Hopkins.

Major alcohol retailers have clear policies that if alcohol is included with deliveries, the person who opens the door will be asked for ID if under 25.

However the report stated that in some situations, even major retailers who relied on mandatory ID checks, were potentially compromised after delivery workers faced “confrontational situations” from some customers.

Although alcohol consumption was falling throughout Britain, the study warned that efforts to fight binge drinking among teenagers was being hindered by the legal loopholes.

The GB Group points towards point of purchase verification checks as one solution.

Hopkins said, “When a new customer applies to purchase a product or service, whether it is online, mail or telephone order, certain details are requested by the retailer, such as name, address and date of birth. These details can be checked by the retailer against reputable data sources, to ensure that they are correct and that the customer meets the minimum age requirements.

“The simplest way to perform these checks is where the customers’ details are electronically checked and a result returned in real-time, informing the retailer of the customers’ eligibility.

“In recent years it has become increasingly important for retailers to have an international presence. So these age verification checks may be performed globally.”

Hopkins pointed to the The Wine Society as an example of good practice as they use, “an identity verification solution to provide unique data matching capabilities that authenticate a consumer’s identity and age by matching personal information against reference data in the UK (and across the globe).”

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