COVID: New Complications in Checking ID

By Susan Dworak
July 27th, 2020

Businesses around the country that sell and serve alcohol have been massively impacted by the COVID pandemic, leaving them scrambling for contingency plans to stay in business and continue serving their customers. As states ease up rules pertaining to alcohol delivery, delivery services and restaurants have started providing alcoholic drinks as part of their offerings. Underage drinkers are gaming the system at record levels, increasing the importance of checking ID.

Many licensees are turning to delivery and either knowingly or unknowingly fail to recognize that a third-party delivery service may be considered an agent of their business, meaning they are ultimately responsible for the actions of anyone involved in the chain of service if alcohol is provided to underage drinkers. Policies and procedures are overlooked during deliveries, typically out of ignorance or total apathy, putting businesses at great risk.

Restaurants, bars, and retailers are struggling with compliance. In April, an investigation by the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) found that “third-party delivery services are routinely delivering alcoholic beverages to minors,” and often without even a cursory check of ID. The Washington Post reported that the California ABC’s inquiry also found that some neglected to follow alcohol regulations during 25% of deliveries. This was significantly lower than the initial failure rate of delivery apps, which was 80%, but even after a warning from the California ABC, the failure rate was still 50%.

"While the COVID pandemic has changed the way we do business, it has not changed the way we check ID. Ultimately, one human being is handing another human being a mind-altering product, alcohol, and the person handing it over must confirm that the recipient is 21 or older. Period."

Susan Dworak, CEO, Real Identities

The economic reality during this pandemic is that delivery is keeping some alcohol businesses alive, and the businesses, as licensees, must understand who they’re hiring as a gatekeeper for their license and livelihood. Licensees are using their own workers - who may or may not have ever been trained to check ID -- and third-party delivery apps and companies. It’s important to recognize that third party delivery apps and companies are just that -- third parties. They are not licensees (i.e., they are not regulated by alcoholic beverage agencies). They are simply online connectors of businesses and consumers. They’re not involved in fulfilling or delivering orders other than making the connection to a product, much like any other delivery service. Online systems can be easily scammed, so ultimately it’s up to both the business as the licensee and the delivery worker they hired to confirm age.

Businesses have an obligation to ensure that their delivery drivers are trained to check ID because they are liable for underage sales even though they put the alcohol into the hands of a third party for delivery. This is because most alcohol and beverage control agencies have jurisdiction over everyone in the chain of service. Licensees are not off the hook if a driver delivers to an underage drinker because ultimately the licensee provided the alcohol. Notably, not only the licensee is liable, but many others can be liable, too, including the delivery driver, the worker who fulfilled the order, the manager, and the owner of the business.

The pandemic is shifting markets rapidly - especially in the delivery space. Most delivery is happening with websites and apps, and most business personnel don’t fully understand the technologies. They trust the marketing, and when apps and websites offer “ID validation” or “secure” systems that scan IDs, they believe it. Standard methods of checking ID - like using scanners - have proven to be ineffective. Fake IDs are built to fool scanners, and because scanners are simply reading the information encoded (often forged) on an ID, they cannot actually authenticate the holder or verify age. Also, it’s risky for a driver to scan ID info into a personal cell phone.

Some delivery app companies are doing a cursory check, at best, of the ID. They have no access to DMV databases to confirm or validate the ID, and even if they did, the only response they would get on a DMV check is that a person with that name and ID number exists in the system. It does not prove that it’s the person ordering online or presenting the ID.

Underage people have a great understanding of how delivery apps and websites work, and without someone properly and thoroughly checking the ID, they are pretty easy to game. In short, delivery is a dream come true for underage drinkers. Most delivery websites and apps require nothing more than self-identification when consumers open an account. Users simply upload a selfie as a profile photo and their ID (the selfie is often the same photo on their fake ID so they will match in the system) and click an “age check” form that doesn’t require any independent verification. This means everyone involved is relying on consumer self-identification as a means to confirm age, putting many at risk.

Teens consider deliveries an appealing means for accessing alcohol. After all, unlike purchasing from a store, with delivery there’s no video evidence of the teen using a fake ID and there’s no public humiliation if they are turned away. Further, it’s convenient. The alcohol is brought right to their door, meaning they don’t have to leave their friends or risk a DUI.

To increase chances of accessing alcohol by delivery, some teens refuse to remove masks, impeding or even intimidating drivers who need to make deliveries to make a day’s pay. In many cases, if the driver does not make a delivery, they are expected to return the alcohol to the licensee. So the option there is to make a delivery and make good money (including a tip), or spend time returning the alcohol to the store and make less money. Desperate to make a living in this pandemic economy, drivers are turning a blind eye, making the delivery, and putting licensees, and many others, including themselves, at risk. Many of these drivers are never told of the legal and financial risks they face for not complying with the rules.

If there is an underage service violation, the licensee and driver may each spend thousands on legal defense and fines. If teens decide to consume the alcohol and make some TikTok videos jumping off the roof into the pool (it’s a thing), resulting, let’s say, in an injury or a fatality, that’s a life changing experience for everyone involved -- all for failing to check ID.

In many cases, delivery drivers are not properly checking IDs or not checking IDs at all. Most don’t know how to check ID. They’ve never had training, and even if they had training they don’t have access to current IDs in the US. Because they don’t know what to look for and feel on an ID, they blindly glance at the ID, skip checking entirely, or simply leave the alcohol at the door without any human interaction.

Also, teens are scamming the system by communicating outside of the watchful eyes of liquor licensees and delivery companies. Teens message drivers directly by text. In this example, one teen is asking a driver to “pick up a six pack” along the way. The driver complies, perhaps thinking that he is providing better service - and making an extra $20 - and not fully understanding the implications or perhaps acting with a total lack of concern for the consequences:

Checking ID can be burdensome without the right resource, but the good news is that contactless ID checking can be done during the pandemic as easily as any other time. The pandemic is not an excuse to sell or serve alcohol without properly and thoroughly checking ID, which can be easily done in seconds within CDC parameters using ID.TRAINING. Current CDC guidelines state that all deliveries should be contactless, so drivers must maintain at least 6 feet of distance and take other precautions, like wearing a mask and gloves. This is not a barrier to checking ID.

Real Identities has an effective solution for checking ID during the pandemic at www.ID.TRAINING. Both the website and the app have free resources specifically for contactless ID checking during deliveries.

Real Identities is providing free step-by-step guidance for safe contactless ID checking and maintaining social distancing. Now it’s easier than ever to check IDs during a delivery, spotting fake IDs in 3 seconds or less using ID.TRAINING’s wealth of images and information. See our website for this video, instructions, and a printable template for ID placement:


Use the above video, along with this sheet and these simple steps to properly check ID while following safe distancing guidelines during the COVID crisis, keeping yourself, your customers, and your community safe.

Checking ID should be standard practice, regardless of a pandemic. Ensuring that alcohol is available only to those with authentic, valid IDs can be a tricky job, but one that ultimately saves lives and livelihoods - including your own.

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