For a lot of businesses, “advanced age verification” isn’t really all that advanced. Instead, the industry standard is a pop-up window that says something to the effect of, “You must be 18/21 to enter this site. Check Yes if you are 18.”
“Business owners seem to think that a pop-up is enough — that checking a box is the same thing as providing heightened age verification,” Matt Fields, VP of AgeChecker.Net, told PYMNTS in a recent conversation.
The problem is that, for the average minor, that age verification box doesn’t have any real power to warn them away, nor is there any cost associated with checking yes, he said. Moreover, as news reports have indicated about various services being busted for selling eCigarettes and tobacco products, it is a mistake with consequences for businesses — and often rather expensive ones at that.
The opportunities and necessity of age checking for all kinds of digital sales are growing. Alcohol is the use case everyone is used to, Fields said, but, in 2019, it is far from the only one. There are eCigarette products, not to mention the states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use, and spawned an active delivery market.
“There are a lot of sales online where there is no heightened age verification activated during the purchase process or on the delivery end,” Fields said.
That is the problem AgeChecker hopes to fix.
How It Works
The AgeChecker solution works in two modes. The “out-of-the-box” version, designed for smaller businesses (SMBs) that don’t have large and developed IT departments, allows for businesses to, more or less, access a plug-and-play version of the AgeChecker offering, with a little bit of starting help from the AgeChecker team. This isn’t for all small firms, Fields said, noting that there is a well-developed cohort of the company’s SMB customer base that likes to work with the hard code and custom build around the offering.
The out-of-the-box solution, on the other hand, is for merchants that want to sell what they are in business to sell, and outsource the verification process to AgeChecker.
“These are the people who think they will deal with it in the future when the reality is they needed it yesterday,” he said. “This is the solution we can deploy for a firm as quickly as possible.”
That solution, he explained, essentially places the age verification pop-up on the checkout page of the digital merchant with which AgeChecker is dealing. When the customer checks out, AgeChecker verifies the information they have given in the background — their name, payment credentials, shipping address, etc. — and runs it against an extensive data network looking for a match. If that match comes back and shows that the person who ordered is of age, the transaction continues.
In the event that there is no match, the consumer is prompted to enter some information and an image of their driver’s license, at which point a manual team with some artificial intelligence (AI) support verifies the buyer and completes the transaction — or denies it if a buyer’s age cannot be verified.
“For a client that wants to do a higher-end development project, they can tap into our API directly,” Fields said of the next level up from the out-of the-box solution the firm offers.
While people can misuse the product (a person who is of age can clear the system, then take the goods they’ve purchased and resell them to minors at a profit), that practice is an unfortunate risk of any age-restricted sale, and is equally likely to happen online as it is in a retail store. AgeChecker is a best practices tool, Fields noted, not a crime prevention tool.
However, he explained, what AgeChecker can do is take the pain and complexity out of online age verification, and turn it into a push-button offering for businesses during the billing process.
The Expanding Horizons Of Age Verification
The product is obviously used by firms that sell age-restricted products, such as alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. Yet, the firm also has a large list of clients selling products that are not formally age-restricted, but are “adult-oriented” products nonetheless — the sorts of things their sellers don’t want to be associated with vending to kids. AgeChecker, Fields said, will work with any company that wants or feels the need to add the feature, providing, of course, that the company is offering a legal service.
Moreover, AgeChecker can help firms navigate areas where there may be a conflict between local laws and state or federal laws. There are many firms — particularly in the cannabis industry or adjacent to it, he noted — that operate in legal gray areas, which can be confusing, and navigating best practices can be a legitimate challenge.
That is why the firm is rolling out an update, allowing merchants to address the age-verification needs they face by data as granular as ZIP codes. This regulatory granularity and flexibility is important, Fields explained, because we are still in the early innings when it comes to how this area is regulated and controlled. There is an epidemic of underaged eCigarette use, and that is a fact that has undeniably caught the FDA’s attention in the U.S.
“Their number-one goal is to reduce the epidemic,” Fields said. How they are going to do that remains a bit of a jump call. They could raise the consumption age to 21. They could even require two-factor authentication for online purchases, or multiple processes that verify the customer at sale and delivery.
As of yet, he noted, the FDA hasn’t been clear or direct on this topic. However, it seems clear that something is coming, and that the agency favors concepts like “heightened age verification” when it comes to online sales of these restricted-access items. It’s why so many players in the space are acting now, and working double time to build and refine their age-checking mechanisms.
As he put it, “It’s the responsibility of the business owner to ensure they are doing everything possible to keep their products out of the hands of minors. No one wants to be the example.”