Age verification system: how to verify a customer's age

Businesses need to know who their customers are in order to build trust and meet regulatory compliance requirements. This is done through identity proofing. But sometimes a business also needs to verify a customer’s age, for example if they sell age-restricted products or services such as alcohol or online gaming. There is also increasing attention on social media providers to prevent underage users from creating accounts.

Read on to find out about age verification online and some of the methods you can use. 

What is age verification?

Age verification is the process of making sure that a person trying to access products or services is the appropriate age as dictated by laws or regulations. There are several different ways for businesses to verify the ages of their customers, including identity document checks. 

Digital age verification

For the most part, age verification used to happen in person. But as many age-restricted services migrated online, it becomes challenging to verify a person’s age when you can’t see them in person. This is where online age verification comes in. As the majority of customers now have a digital identity it’s become possible to also verify age online.

Online age verification system

An online age verification system can check the personal identifying information (PII) a user provides and makes sure they are of the appropriate age to access services or products online. It can also check the information from a document with a document verification check to make sure a user is the right age. 

Age verification services should strike a balance between collecting the amount of information that’s necessary to prove a person’s age, but not beyond, and also being effective and secure.

Online age verification UK

Service providers of restricted products in the UK are required by law to verify the age of their customers. In the last few years, regulatory attention has turned to providing more comprehensive protection for children online.

The UK government has introduced the Online Safety Bill and is due to replace elements of the Digital Economy Act which was scrapped in 2019. The Online Safety Bill aims to protect children from a broader range of harmful content across more services. The Digital Economy Act, for example, did not cover social media companies, whereas the Online Safety Bill will.

Once the Bill has come into force, Ofcom will be responsible for overseeing that online services comply with the regulatory requirements. To that end Ofcom has published a roadmap and intends to start issuing guidance next year. Responsibility will sit with individual companies to decide how to comply, but the government has indicated that Ofcom might recommend the use of a growing range of age verification technologies.

Online age verification US

Protecting children online is a hot topic in the US and age verification is a key part of this effort. At the federal level, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and associated regulations outline how businesses must oversee children’s safety online. In his State of the Union, President Biden called on Congress to strengthen children’s privacy online as part of his mental health initiatives. Legislation being considered in the House and Senate would place new requirements on companies to know the age of their users.

Each individual state can also set age restrictions on certain products and services, and for implementing how businesses comply with those age restrictions.  The California legislature is considering the Age Appropriate Design Code Act (A.B. 2733) which is modeled off of the UK’s Children’s Code and would require protections for online spaces children are likely to access, even if they are not the target audience.  

To provide an example, age verification requirements for direct shippers of age-restricted goods are set by each state. Yet only a handful of states have explicit requirements for age verification.

How does age verification work?

Age verification checks are different from customer due diligence, KYC and AML checks, in that they do not require a full identity verification check. However, it’s still vital that businesses comply with regulations, and verify their customers’ ages.

There are several ways businesses can verify age, ranging from asking users to self-declare their age or birthdate, to database checks or online document checks. Some are more rigorous and more effective than others. On the whole, any age verification technologies should be secure, effective and take into consideration user privacy. 

Age verification by self declaration

This is a low-security way to verify users’ ages. Up until recently, it was a method adopted by several social media platforms. A user simply submits their age or date of birth. This method is reliant on users providing honest information. Without any means of confirming a user’s age in place, it’s easy for underage individuals to slip through.

Age verification via a credit card check

Businesses can also verify age via a credit card or credit record check. The logic behind this method is that individuals must be 18 or over to own a credit card or build up a credit record.

Age verification via a database check

A credit bureau check is one type of database check. However, businesses can also check an applicant's age/date of birth against a range of other verified databases, including voter registers and utility providers. Find out more about Onfido’s ID Record check – we verify data against comprehensive databases in 160 countries, including voter registers, consumer, credit, and utility databases.

Age verification via a document check

For a high assurance way to verify age, businesses can use online document checks. These should go beyond simply asking users to submit a scan of an identity document, instead asking them to submit a photo of their ID as part of the onboarding flow. Onfido’s document verification checks that the document is real, and combined with a biometric check, confirm it belongs to the same person who is submitting the document. Find out more about document and biometric verification.

Age verification tool

Businesses have a choice when it comes to age verification tools. They can either build it in-house or bring on board a specialist provider like Onfido. 

The benefit of a provider like Onfido is that businesses can build tailored verification journeys based on different customers. So if age verification requirements are different in one country than they are in another, this can all be set up and automated via our no-code, drag-and-drop workflow builder.

Find out more about Onfido’s solution and how we could help with your age verification requirements.

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