What Can Children Buy Online? And what’s stopping them?

What Can Children Buy Online? And what’s stopping them?

A Court in San Jose, California has ruled that Facebook must face a class-action lawsuit in the United States after the company refused to provide refunds to parents whose children spent their money on the social network without permission.


Facebook allowed children to use their parents' credit or debit cards to buy the virtual currency 'Facebook Credits' however they refused to issue refunds to the parents when they complained.

Facebook allows those who are at least 13 years of age to sign up for an account, which makes them differ from other online sellers as they actually know they age of the user. Facebook then take their money without any verification of whether the use of that money is authorised or where it came from.

However a much more distressing issue is the rise of somewhat savvy young teenagers working out that they can procure age restricted items such as e-cigarettes, alcohol, fireworks and weapons simply by purchasing them online and having them delivered.

One of the biggest legal conundrums in the modern day world is how to make law that takes the internet into account. When an underage person enters a shop to purchase a restricted item, they must provide identification to show they are old enough to purchase the product. However, how can their age and identity be checked online? And how can the seller be sure the buyer says who they say they?

Today at Unlock the Law, we look at the regulation of online sales of age-restricted items and what you can do if your child purchases such items.

What is the UK law regulating online sales of age-restricted goods?

The sale of particular goods to young people is illegal and is important that retailers, parents and young people understand the law – including how it applies online.

Retailers are legally obliged to ensure they do not sell age-restricted products to people under the legal age of purchase. In the eyes of the law, it is not a parental responsibility to prevent this.

However, sales over the internet present a particular challenge to retailers who sell online and they must have effective systems in place for preventing sales to those who are underage.

Duty of retailers In THE UK

It is the responsibility of retailers to ensure they do not sell age-restricted products online to people under the legal age of purchase. Retailers have a legal obligation to set up an effective system to ensure they can verify the age of the purchaser.

Where a retailer sells an age restricted product to an underage individual, this system and having taken all reasonable precautions will be the only defence that could save them from a criminal conviction.

Past court case decisions give an indication as to what measures will be deemed acceptable and what will not pass the test.

Checks unlikely to satisfy the test:

  • Relying on the purchaser confirming they are over the minimum age
  • Asking the purchaser simply to give a date of birth
  • Using tick boxes to ask purchasers to confirm they are over the minimum age when buying online.
  • A general disclaimer for example 'anyone ordering this product from our website will be deemed to be18 years or older'
  • Using a terms and conditions statement for the purchaser to confirm they are over the minimum age
  • Using e-payment services such as PayPal. Whilst such These services may require a customer to be over 18, but they may not verify a purchaser's age.

Proper Age verification checks:

  • Payment by credit card- Credit cards are generally available only to those over 18. Payment by credit card (as opposed to debit card) could verify that the principal cardholder for the credit card is over 18.
  • Carrying out standard age verification checks on delivery
  • Online age verification software - These systems make use of various sources of information in order to verify age and identity during the purchasing process. These checks include using the electoral register and credit reference agencies.
  • In-store collection

More Free Legal Advice Online

For more information please read our online criminal law guides.

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