When we started as an online retail store for vape products we didn't know that we would also have to become detectives. Now, we understand that we sell an age-restricted product and we take that responsibility extremely seriously. In contrast to what the media tries to depict, we and most of the industry, do not target underage buyers. We believe that our products should be reserved for adults and those adults should have a choice of what they decide to put in their bodies. And regardless of what age we believe defines an adult, it is our duty to follow the law. But like many other retailers, we are faced with a volume of underaged individuals who try to place fraudulent orders on our website. This presents a huge problem for our business and for the industry because when age-restricted products are found in the hands of underage individuals the blame is quickly placed on the company that sold them the product and on the industry as a whole. These individuals who choose to order illegally do not realize that they're placing the livelihoods and the health of millions of people at risk with their actions, as well as risking a very serious habit. Something has got to change.
In our time as a vape e-commerce site, we have seen many underage buyers try to game the system. At first it started with these minors using cash to purchase prepaid debit cards from local retail stores. They would use these temporary debit cards in order to place online purchases with fake names and real addresses. Once age verification software was introduced, we've seen many underage individuals steal parent identification in order to defraud the software. Some even go to the lengths of having the packages sent to a friend's house instead of their own.
If somebody has successfully defrauded the software we're typically made aware of the fraud by the parents of the underage individual. They notice a charge on their debit card or receive the package themselves. The reaction from these parents typically falls into one of three categories.
The first is that they are concerned. They are concerned that their child is purchasing from a company illegally and fraudulently. They are concerned that their child is consuming a substance without their approval. And typically we find that they are concerned about our company’s well being. We love working with these parents because they provide a lot of information that make our systems more effective in preventing fraudulent orders, such as other emails or names that their child may try to use in the future so that we can block them preemptively.
The next parent will have a delusional reaction. They will receive the package and say something to the effect of, “ No one ordered this and I don't know why it was sent here.” They cannot believe that their child is engaged in fraud and is purchasing products that they are not legally allowed to, no matter how much evidence presents itself. While we’re able to typically come to an agreeable resolution, the problem still persists and without being spoken to, the minor may not fully understand the consequences of their actions or the potential repercussions of engaging in fraudulent activities causing the issue to persist.
Lastly, and the most frustrating, is the angry parent. They are upset that “we allowed this to happen” and want to hold our company fully responsible for the actions of their child. Thankfully we do not encounter this parent often but when we do the situation is very regressive. The child never learns to not engage in illegal activities and our company does not gain the information that we need in order to prevent future fraudulent orders.
We believe that there should be a shared responsibility in order to prevent underage people from ordering age-restricted products. First, the company should take measures in order to make it as close to impossible for an underage individual to order as they can. Investing in software that verifies the purchaser’s age against a database and cross-referencing billing addresses with shipping addresses are really great starts in reducing the amount of fraudulent and underage orders. We really enjoy using this software and it has helped us catch many of fraudulent orders. In addition, companies should have a clear line of communication for parents and policy if fraudulent orders occur.
We also believe that part of the responsibility should be on the parents. As a father of two, I always take my fair share of responsibility in my children’s actions. It is our job as parents to make sure that we are engaged with our children in a way that they feel they can talk to us openly and honestly. We should be interested and involved in their lives. We should be aware of their friends and the activities they’re engaging in. Most importantly, when we discover an issue, we should ascertain all the facts and have an open conversation with our children about the consequences of their actions.
Lastly, we believe that a large part of the responsibility should fall on the individual. It is our job as citizens to know, understand, abide by the laws of the land. If the law has deemed you to be too young to own or use a product, the results of that decision should not be a choice to break that law. As citizens, there are steps that we can take to change laws if we fundamentally disagree with them but outright disobedience should never be the first choice. (This is not a rallying cry from our organization to challenge the age in which governing bodies have decided that people should be allowed to consume certain products. Just a reminder of the processes in which individuals must go through to enact change.)
If you've read this entire piece, we'd love to hear your opinions and thoughts about how the industry should move forward. Is there anything that you can think of that the industry as a whole or that companies alone can do to prevent underage or fraudulent orders? If you are a parent, what is some advice you would give to other parents struggling with their minors making fraudulent purchases? Are there any thoughts you would like to share with underage individuals deciding to put companies and our industry at risk? Share your thoughts in the comments below.