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Underage drinkers, the danger of online alcohol sales

If kids in South Carolina and throughout the United States want to include underage drinking in their weekend plans, they don't have to go any further than their smartphone or home computer to order some alcohol.

More than 5,000 vendors sell alcohol via the Internet, but there is little oversight of the industry that brings is $2.4 billion annually, according to a 2011 university study. Unlike the corner grocer, the Internet cannot see a buyer's identification and proof of age.

In the Internet study, nearly half of the students ages 18 to 20 who attempted to buy alcohol were able to do so. While they mostly bought wine, beer and hard liquor were available online, as well. The young people were able to complete the order by using a parent's birthdate or, in some cases, just by putting a checkmark in a box that states the buyer is of age.

Each order was completed via a prepaid gift card that the students could buy with cash, thereby meaning their parents or no one else will ever find a credit card bill in the mail showing an alcohol purchase.

When the packages were shipped, very few times did the delivery driver ask for age verification, even when the box was marked to ask the driver to not hand off the purchase to someone under age 21.

With digital technology at their fingerprints, it is unrealistic to think that Internet alcohol sales to minors will curtail. No one knows whether online alcohol sales will continue to rise in number. It is up to all parties, however, to make sure that minors do not buy alcohol online. To accomplish that, alcohol vendors and their package-delivery firms need to toughen their regulations regarding shipping alcohol to guard who receives it on the other end.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Online alcohol sales fueling underage drinking," Sue Hubbard, Oct. 10. 2012

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