Age verification has long been an essential practice for alcohol beverage retailers, but it has become more complicated with the rise of alcohol delivery across the U.S. Retailers now rely on delivery drivers — who, in some cases, are not their own employees, but instead work for a third-party service — to properly check identification in order to protect their liquor licenses.

In addition to the ever-present ID scanner, new technologies like mobile driver’s licenses and biometrics are being used and tested to help retailers manage age verification. However, even the most innovative technology can be fooled by fake IDs. Here is what you need to know about current age verification technologies, retailers’ liabilities, and best practices in order to protect your business.

Age Verification Challenges

“One of the biggest challenges that anyone selling a regulated product faces is underage drinking,” says Susan Dworak, the CEO of Real Identities, a team of legal and tech experts dedicated to protecting those whose job it is to confirm identity. “Underage drinkers are scamming the online system at high rates because it’s easier to do. Anyone can go online and create a false identity.”

According to Dworak, a borrowed or stolen ID is the most common way in which underage drinkers scam retailers; because they are real IDs, they scan without a problem. But today’s fake IDs are also incredibly sophisticated, and there are millions in circulation. Barcode and magnetic stripe technologies are over a half-century old, argues Dworak, so they are easily forged. 

“If drivers are not confirming who the customers are,” she says. “That’s the biggest problem retailers are facing. They’re relying on delivery drivers to keep their liquor licenses safe.”

If a driver ends up delivering alcohol to someone under the age of 21, it can have devastating consequences not just for the driver, but for the retailer as well — even if they were using a third party delivery company. According to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the retailer, as the licensee, is responsible for ensuring the product they sell only goes to those 21 and older. This can result in fines, as well as civil and criminal charges for the driver and the retailer. For the retailer, it can also mean suspension or revocation of a liquor license. 

Why Retailers Should Be Cautious of Advancements in Age Verification Technology 

There are several types of technology now being used to confirm that an ID is valid: scanners, mobile driver licenses, biometrics (like eye or fingerprint scanning), and blockchain. But Dworak can poke holes in each of them.

Scanners are widely used and are even required by many third-party delivery companies. “ID scanners often don’t catch today’s sophisticated fake IDs because fake IDs are specifically made to fool scanners,” she says. Many retailers purchase scanners from companies that provide this technology to government and military organizations, believing them to be similarly secure, but in reality, sometimes those companies are selling lower-quality scanners to alcohol retailers.

“The reality is that only the government has functional age verification technology systems,” says Dworak. Those high-end systems cost tens of thousands of dollars and are operated by highly trained personnel. “This is a far different environment than most venues that sell alcohol,” she adds. 

As for mobile driver licenses, biometrics, and blockchain? “They are even more easily forged and scammed than plastic ID cards because they are digital,” says Dworak. For example, with mobile driver licenses, it’s easy to screenshot someone else’s ID and simply swap the photos. 

How to Check ID with Due Diligence

All jurisdictions in the U.S. require due diligence when checking IDs for alcohol sales. Retailers and drivers alike should know that running an ID through a scanner will not be considered due diligence in a court of law. “You really need humans,” says Dworak. “There is no substitute for checking ID with the human eye and human touch. A human being must check the ID. That’s the only way you’re going to achieve due diligence.”

Drizly confirms that its in-app scanning tool is just one step in the ID checking process for delivery drivers. “Drizly provides the scanning tool within the app and this is an important input, but drivers should still perform all other ID checks to ensure a safe delivery,” says Andy Kazeniac, the vice president of retail operations for Drizly. “In addition to confirming the authenticity of the ID, ensuring that the person shown on the ID matches the recipient is the final check. We encourage all drivers to hold onto the product while checking ID, and only pass it to the customer after confirmation of a 21+ recipient.”  

But properly checking an ID with one’s eyes is not an easy task, explains Dworak. There are over 800 valid versions of driver’s licenses in the United States, and they change frequently, so how can one person be expected to memorize them all?

One solution is the Real Identities ID.Training app, which contains clear images of every single valid driver’s license. When the driver makes a delivery, they can tap on the state of the ID, find the associated version, and check for the common, often subtle mistakes that fake ID manufacturers make, which the app points out with arrows and circles.

“We track the fake ID market on a daily basis,” says Dworak. “We put the fakes next to real IDs, so you can say ‘Aha! I see the difference.’ It’s three steps, and a way to properly check every ID in the U.S.”