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21 Apr 2023in Use cases

What Is an Age Verification System and Why Incorporate It Into Your Business

Jan Stepnov

Identity Verification Expert, Regula

Age verification systems are an integral part of remote onboarding in many industries where the age of customers is regulated. Alcohol and tobacco companies, gaming and dating websites, and financial organizations require users to confirm their age to comply with the law.

In this article, we will discuss how remote age verification systems work, what different kinds there are, and what industries need to implement them.

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Industries that require age verification

Some of the most common industries that require age verification include:

  • Alcohol and tobacco. The government severely regulates the alcohol industry in most countries. Selling alcohol and cigarettes to underaged people can result in someone losing their license, suffering fines, and even receiving a prison sentence.

  • Energy drinks and supplements. In some countries, not only alcohol but also energy drinks and dietary supplements (for example, those that contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants) are associated with health risks and, therefore, are only sold to adults. 

  • Gambling and gaming. Many countries forbid the admittance of underaged people to gambling and online gaming platforms. This protects them from the dangers (e.g., gambling addiction) associated with these activities. 

  • Adult materials. Age verification is necessary to protect minors who haven’t reached the age of consent from accessing sexually explicit materials.

  • Pharmaceuticals. Certain drugs can only be distributed to adults to prevent potential health risks. The regulations differ from country to country.

  • Firearms and ammunition. To purchase firearms, vendors require their customers to be legal adults.

Does your industry require age verification? If so, keep on reading this article.

What is an age verification system?

With the shift towards a digital environment, the importance of online age verification is growing. The process of online age verification can involve anything from registering in a new app and filling in your birth date to scanning your passport for a bank to validate your age.

Age verification systems may come in various forms. The most straightforward solutions are “Confirm you’re over 18” checkboxes. Age verification can also happen via video calls where a client or a candidate (in case of a job interview) can show their ID and answer some questions.

More advanced solutions are based on document and face recognition technologies, and rely on numerous neural networks. NNs are trained on enormous amounts of sample data, which allows them to automatically recognize important information in an image and process user data in seconds without human input.

What can age verification be used for?

Age verification often comes together with KYC procedures. KYC stands for Know Your Customer and is the mandatory process of onboarding new customers in banking and other highly regulated fields. In such cases, checking an individual’s age is just one of the aspects of identity verification.

Age verification is also often needed in industries like e-commerce, where no KYC regulations are applied, but age-sensitive products and services are sold. There’s no need to verify customers’ identities, but businesses are obliged to ensure they’re dealing with adults.

Also, age verification can be applied for authorization as an additional security measure. For example, online casinos might check that the person who tries logging into an account is actually the same person who created the account. For this purpose, they can implement a selfie check. This way, minors won’t be able to log in, even if they have access to their parent’s device, password, or ID.

Finally, you sometimes need to know the client’s age, but requesting their ID for verification is overkill. For example, some supermarkets might collect customer information to gain insights into their target audience. They don’t need to match age to a particular customer but could use smart cameras to gather some statistics. Face recognition technologies make this possible (although this might be against legal requirements in some countries).

Methods of online age verification

Now, let’s look closer at ways to verify a person’s age in a digital field.

Self-declaration

Reliability ★☆☆☆☆

self-declaration screen

Some companies require users to choose their age to access restricted content.

This type of age verification requires the user to honestly tell their age. While this method is the easiest one to implement, it’s more of a way for businesses to protect themselves from legal issues by ticking the box rather than actually protecting minors.

Since people can easily lie to access the content, this method should only be used in low-risk use cases, and by no means in regulated industries.

Credit card check

Reliability ★★☆☆☆

google credit card age verification

Google uses credit card age verification as one of the ways to verify your age.

Another way to check someone's age is to ask them to provide their credit card number. For example, Google can use it to confirm the user’s age to give access to age-restricted content or services. The benefit of this method is that an individual doesn’t have to disclose their private info, such as ID details, and it’s quite simple to do.

The logic is that if the user has a credit card, they must be above 18. However, this method might have been reliable several decades ago, but today it can serve only as an additional means of security. In many countries, children can have bank cards that are often tied to their parent's accounts, so it’s better to combine this method with others.

Photo check

Reliability ★★☆☆☆

age verification via photo

Face detection uses age verification as a part of checks for confirming one’s identity.

Companies can verify the age of their clients by using machine learning models based on neural networks that have been trained to recognize a person’s age based on a photo. Additionally, they can match an applicant's image with their database of already registered clients (or a base of unreliable customers) if the company has such lists.

The key aspect here is having a base of verified clients to compare against. As of today, determining age from a photo still is more of a guessing game which allows for a fairly large margin of error—it can be as much as ten years or so. This way, it can rather accurately distinguish a kid from an adult, but won’t guarantee that the young man in the photo is 22 and not 19.

To sum up, this check can hardly be used as a single reliable verification method. Photo checks must be combined with other age verification methods, such as ID document checks, to be effective. Moreover, since such checks involve computer vision and other advanced machine learning technologies, they can be rather costly.

ID document check

Reliability ★★★★☆

age verification with document reader

Automated document readers can capture documents and cross-check the age stated in the visual inspection zone with the one encoded in other elements.

Online identity document checks are one of the most reliable methods to verify age. Advanced purpose-built OCR engines can remotely examine a scanned copy of the user’s ID and, if necessary, also validate the holder’s age. Such tools perform lexical analysis of the extracted data and can determine the age of a person by the date of birth specified in the document.

Typically, tools for automated document checks are used by companies from regulated fields. In their case, age verification is just one scenario among many, which often include automated onboarding, automated data entry, various compliance tasks (KYC, AML), and more. 

The benefit of such solutions is that not only they can fetch information from the visual inspection zone (e.g., name, date of birth, passport number, etc.) but also read and validate different security features of the document, such as the MRZ (Machine Readable Zone) and barcodes.

Regula Document Reader SDK, one of the most advanced solutions, solves the age verification task by automatically capturing the document, analyzing it, and verifying that the age in the document is consistent across all data sources and meets the requirements. It can work with more than 12,000 different types of identity documents from 248 countries, and performs additional verification of electronic RFID chips. This way, you get not only age verification but also overall document authentication as well.

ID document check combined with biometric check

Reliability ★★★★★

regula identity verification solution

Age verification as part of the document verification procedure combined with a biometric check.

Biometric checks are the next level above secure identity document verification, as they ensure that the document really belongs to its holder. In practice, the user is asked to look into the camera and take a selfie. The resulting images are used for comparison with the photos in the documents.

A rule of thumb is also to conduct a liveness check. Given the development of visual technologies that allow you to create realistic masks and deepfakes, such checks are essential to make sure that there is a real live person in front of the camera—at the very least, not a recording.

During these procedures, trained systems can also determine the approximate age of a person and alert if the user is potentially a minor. This is what Regula Face SDK can do, among other things. It automatically detects a face on a selfie taken at the moment of the onboarding and analyzes significant attributes of the person's appearance, such as their age.

All in all, identity documents and biometric checks, when used together, are currently the most reliable and comprehensive ways to identify a person, verify their ID, and make sure it’s a real person who’s also of age.

Why a combination of ID document and biometric checks is the most effective method to verify age

Biometric and ID checks used together are the best way to verify a person’s age when the stakes are high. Here is why:

Improved compliance

Age verification is often required by law to ensure that businesses comply with age restrictions set by regulators. Otherwise, businesses might face legal penalties, fines, and even the revocation of licenses. Document verification combined with biometric checks aligns with regulations in most countries.

Identity theft prevention

Age verification powered by document and biometric checks helps businesses prevent fraudsters from using fake and/or stolen identities to purchase age-restricted products or services.

Establishing corporate responsibility

Businesses should protect vulnerable individuals, such as children and teenagers, from the risks associated with age-restricted products or services. Age verification, which is more than just a formality, is essential to ensure you fulfill this responsibility.

Better market reputation

Selling age-restricted products or services to minors is unethical and can lead to negative media coverage, public backlash, and loss of customer trust. Implementing reliable hard-to-trick age verification systems can help you avoid such problems.

Ensuring legal protection

In some cases, businesses that sell age-restricted products or services can be held liable for any harm caused to minors who access these products or services. Age verification that includes both ID and biometric checks can help businesses to mitigate this risk and protect themselves from legal liability.

How to implement age verification in your business

Age verification systems vary from pop-ups to complex procedures that involve biometric verification. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each company decides for itself which degree and type of protection works for them on the basis of its industry specifics and jurisdiction.

However, if you’re looking for a trustworthy vendor that seamlessly integrates age verification best practices with your business processes, you’ve come to the right place. Regula's solutions for age verification can help you meet compliance requirements, protect your brand from most of the risks related to identity verification, and improve the user experience for your customers at the same time. Feel free to contact us to discuss how to implement top-notch age verification in your business.

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FAQ

What industries require age verification processes?

Age verification processes are essential in industries where age restrictions are imposed by law. Some common examples include alcohol and tobacco sales, online gaming, gambling platforms, adult content, and the sale of certain pharmaceuticals.

What is the purpose of age verification systems?

Age verification serves various purposes, such as compliance with legal regulations, protecting minors, enhancing security, and ensuring responsible business practices. It helps businesses confirm the age of customers to prevent underage access to age-restricted content or products, reducing the risk of legal penalties and damage to their reputation.

What methods are there to verify one’s age?

There are multiple methods that vary in reliability and complexity. They include self-declaration (least reliable), credit card checks, photo checks using machine learning, ID document checks with OCR technology, and—the most reliable method—a combination of ID document and biometric checks. The choice of method depends on the industry, jurisdiction, and level of security required.

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