Jan 24, 2020
5 min read

Don’t Overlook Age Checks: Laws and Methods to Stay Compliant

Age verification is a recurring topic in the news and a fairly sensitive subject in the business industry. Just recently Amazon had faced damage to its reputation, when a 16-year-old fatally stabbed an Aberdeen schoolboy with a knife he bought from Amazon. Another recent case is when a McDonald’s in-store games machine showed ‘mature’ adverts to a small child.

Some businesses are ready to change—Tinder has announced new minimum user age to protect underaged from connecting with adults. Governments are trying out new ways to crack down those failing to protect under-18s from accessing age-restricted goods and services. An example would be the last year’s UK plan to introduce more sophisticated age-checks, although it was eventually abandoned due to data leak fears and technical difficulties.

How countries regulate age verification

Regulators govern access to online gambling, online retail goods, purchase of medicine and social games. Online purchase of drugs such as marijuana is usually not allowed as it is. Any business that sells or grants access to age-restricted goods, content or services to underaged could face criminal charges and unlimited fines.

Age verification laws change from country to country. In some places children are given ID’s or even eID’s when they turn 12 (Belgium, Denmark and Spain). Minimum alcohol purchase age is not unified even in Europe—France, Spain and the UK have it 18; in Italy and Denmark, it is 16.

Age-restricted goods purchasing

The minimum legal age to buy age-restricted products, those goods and services themselves and fines for illegally buying them vary across the world, within countries and industries, as you can see below.

  • UK

In the Kingdom it is illegal for online retailers to sell minors alcohol, tobacco (Protection From Tobacco Act 1991), spray paints, blades (Offensive Weapons Act 1996), fireworks (according The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015), video recordings (Video Recordings Act 1984) and games (Gambling Act 2005). To purchase medicine online, retailers usually request prescription receipts that verify the eligibility of an individual to buy it. As an example, allowing under-18s to sell alcohol is a Level 1 fine—£250. The sale/supply of alcohol to under-18s is a Level 5 fine— £5,000.

  • US

FDA legally expects businesses to have age verification scanners for some adult-only products. Online cigarette vendors require age verification software (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT)).

  • Denmark

Sale of both nicotine-containing and non-nicotine e-cigarettes to minors (under 18 years) is prohibited. (Act no. 426 of 18 May 2016)

  • Germany

Age limits are determined by the Protection of Young Persons Act (Jugendschutzgesetzes) containing rules regarding alcohol, tobacco, and games.

Gambling access

Governments continuously reinforce legislation surrounding gambling and age checks. Some countries made gambling illegal for all people regardless of age. Other countries imposed different age limits for different types of gambling.

  • UK

Under the Gambling Act 2005 the online gaming websites are required to perform proper age and identity verification on their customers before letting them open an account. As a general rule, the minimum legal age for gambling in the UK is 18 years old.

  • Denmark and Italy

The governments have developed standard interfaces under The Gambling Act 2012 and “The Abruzzo Decree” 2010, which must be included in the registration process to check personal information against official government databases—NemID and “Fiscal Code” identifier.

  • Spain

Customer asserted data is checked against an eID database (Ley 13/2011 de Regulación del Juego 25 2011).

  • Germany

Based on The Interstate Treaty unauthorised distributors, operators and advertisers can be fined between €10,000 to €50,000 depending on the gravity of the violation. The Gambling Acts of the individual German states authorise regulators to sanction illegal and gambling and advertising with fines up to €500,000.

Age-restricted content

There is a rising concern for children being able to easily gain access to adult content and certain inappropriate apps. Following on these concerns, governments are adopting more robust checks and higher age restrictions.

  • UK

The government planned to introduce age checks to stop under-18s from viewing pornography (The Digital Economy Act 2017), but suspended the project in October 2019 due to privacy breach concerns.

  • South Korea

Adult content is blocked until a user submits their mobile number (only SK number is accepted by the system) to gain access.

  • USA

Most social media services use an age limit of 13 or over (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act).

  • Germany

Video and game content must be labeled “Approved without age limit” or approved accordingly with certain age restrictions.

To comply with these demands, avoid fines and keep running, businesses take on preventive measures. Here are some of them.

Measures used to verify age

The service or seller is responsible for who they supply age-restricted goods or services to and must implement verification methods to determine their purchaser’s or user’s age. The consequences of this responsibility arises as soon as they are exposed as failing to provide effective checks and an underaged is caught buying or using their service.

There are no guides to what kind of check has to be performed exactly, with some laws being more specific with their demands than others. Here are the methods:

  • Simple questionnaire

Asking a customer to click a box to confirm they are over-18 or enter a date of birth is a very popular, but basic form of age check. Though easily bypassable, the check can work for businesses that have no other requirements to age-verification and a simple questionnaire is found sufficient by regulators.

  • Phone number code

A check that requires for a person accessing adult content to have a phone. It does create a certain barrier, that could stop the underaged. On the downside, it can be easily bypassed by minors having their own phones or taking family member’s phone just to get through the check. This can work for all online platforms, but is not enough on its own.

  • Social media check

Some services, such as Tinder, set up user accounts through Facebook, getting all the user information from there. However, there is a hole in the method, as Facebook allows users to change their age up to 3 times without requesting a user’s ID. Also, some people are hesitant to give their social media details to controversial websites, that might lead to poor conversion.

  • Credit card check

Verifying customer’s age online by proving that they are in possession of the card via Card Verification Value (CVV) or 3D Secure, as only over-18s are able to apply for this credit facility. As a leading payment method choice for online purchases for many people such check can help single out underaged. It can help e-commerce stores who only accept credit cards as the payment method.

  • Check ID upon delivery

One measure businesses can take is to ensure every customer purchasing an age-restricted item provides their proof of age upon delivery. This can work for all e-commerce stores that sell physical items.

  • Setting up user profiles

Asking customers to register their details via setting up an ‘account’ can also act as a means to deter under-18s. In doing this, it means that a customer will only need to verify their age once—when the account is first set up. However, again, age verification is implemented on a trust basis—signing up, a person simply has to lie about their date of birth in order to get around the check. An example: TikTok musical app.

  • Document-based check

Some platforms require to enter personal data from a driver’s license or passport. A good step to process user access, but could face some unwillingness from the users to submit such sensitive information to a gambling service or a porn site.

Avoid fines without affecting the purchasing process.

  • Age verification through software

One of the most innovative ways to age verification is software that requires a person to make a short video of them moving their head according to the instructions. The technology is able to detect the age of an individual with the accuracy of +/- 5 years. The check is fast and doesn’t require a person to submit any sensitive data such as bank card details or social media access.

All in all, the ideal age verification check for a user must carry frictionless user experience and request data that the user is willing to share. That is why sometimes automated video check is more effective in terms of user onboarding.

The main problem of age verification is that most of the solutions still don’t work as they promise. Thus, the only way to assure compliance is to use multiple verification methods. Keep them simple and straightforward, so they don’t delay sales or encourage shoppers to abandon their cart, offering high levels of security and buyer protection so that personal information stays safe.

Choose age verification method that fits your business and keeps you legally compliant.

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