How to add the right age verification system to your business

Adding the right digital age verification system that works across regions and use cases can be complex. Learn what to look for in a solution provider.

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⚡ Key takeaways
  • Digital age verification is complex. At a minimum, you need to handle underage user data compliantly and ensure users can only access age-appropriate products and services on your platform to avoid regulatory fines and legal repercussions. 
  • You can build your own digital age verification solution, but that would require considerable investment and maintenance with countless new age-related bills proposed around the world. A more efficient option would be to engage an external solution that you can configure to your business’ and users’ needs.
  • Persona offers digital age verification that works across industries. With our unified platform, you can stay compliant with global regulations, customize verification experiences, increase conversions, protect minors’ safety on your platform, and reverify users at moments you deem appropriate.

If you offer age-restricted goods, experiences, or services, you may find it increasingly difficult to implement the right digital age verification system that works across regions and use cases. To remain compliant with a growing set of privacy regulations and regional laws, your compliance and trust and safety teams may face challenges such as:

  • A manual and ineffective age verification system that was not built and implemented with scaling across jurisdictions in mind
  • An inability to consistently prevent onboarded underage users from accessing age-restricted content or adults from communicating with minors, any single instance of which could result in regulatory fines and reputational damage
  • Inadvertently turning off good users, whether they are the minors themselves or  parents or guardians who need to provide consent, by adding too much friction to your onboarding process
  • Protecting user information in a compliant manner across the jurisdictions you operate in

These are all valid concerns that many of our customers have overcome with the right age verification solution in place. We go into the reasons age is so difficult to verify digitally, what to look for in an age verification solution, and how you can add age verification to your platform with Persona. 

Looking to get set up with digital age verification right away? Get started with Persona.

Why digital age verification can be challenging to implement 

Many companies begin verifying the age of their customers by implementing a checkbox or a self-certification of age. They often discover too late how nuanced it can be. 

For example, businesses may catch data irregularities only after they onboard users claiming to be a certain age, as many gaming companies have done when adults enter spaces intended for minors. This has happened to even the largest companies with significant technical resources. In 2019, Meta’s Messenger Kids app, intended for children under 13, was found to have a design flaw that let unauthorized adults into private chats. 

Here are a few challenges you may face when verifying users' ages digitally. 

1. Digital verification of a user’s date of birth requires a more advanced system. 

You may have already done a good job putting an age gate in place that requires users to self-certify their age by inputting their date of birth, which is cross-referenced against acceptable dates on a Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) clock. Unfortunately, there’s no actual user age verification taking place with self-certification because you don’t know if the date of birth entered corresponds to the user — they could have entered a random date to meet your age requirements.

Unless you actively look for these cases and account for how users can get around the system you have in place, you won’t know if you have an age verification problem. 

2. Age fabrication may not be apparent unless you actually look for it.

Marketing and growth teams are often tasked with scrutinizing user data to ensure underage individuals don’t make it onto their platform. If the data was received via an age gate, the problem remains that they don’t actually know if the user is the age they claim to be. 

Minimizing age fabrication requires having an age verification system so you can actually look into the data and who it is meant to correspond to. 

3. Storage and processing of underage users’ data can result in fines. 

The nuances of age verification don’t stop at a user’s date of birth. Storing, tracking, and  processing of underage users' personally identifiable information (PII) is regulated in certain jurisdictions, and there have been numerous incidents of companies being caught flat-footed when these poor data practices come to light. 

This happened to an advertising agency that recently came under scrutiny for unintentionally collecting underage user data when one of its credit card ads ran on a popular children’s YouTube channel

The first step in thinking through a new verification flow that goes beyond age gating is understanding the minimum amount of data you need to verify ages. 

Common checks include:  

  • Government-issued ID. You could ask underage users for a state-issued non-driver ID or a passport. However, keep in mind that not every minor will have one of these forms of ID, which may make this request a stumbling block to conversion. 
  • Selfie. Another option is asking users to take and upload a selfie. You won’t need any documents or date of birth, just an image you use for a limited time to perform facial analysis. 

Whatever you choose to implement, it’s critical that the process makes sense for your users and their parents/guardians so you don’t inadvertently turn off good users on the way to implementing a compliant, effective age-verification system.

4. You know you need to add friction but don’t want to compromise the user experience.

Creating, maintaining, and updating verification flows that work for a variety of users and scenarios can be tricky. Too much complexity can cause customer frustration and abandonment, while oversimplification can incur regulatory fines and damage your business.

People expect their digital experiences to mirror real life. For example, it’s common to have to show your government-issued ID to purchase alcoholic beverages at a bar or store. If you have to do that — plus take a selfie and present a utility bill — to buy alcohol online, it’s likely that you’ll get frustrated and abandon your purchase.

On the flip side, not putting the proper safeguards in place for underage users’ experiences and data collection can result in fines or may cause damage to your business in other ways. Let’s say you’re a marketplace for individuals and businesses selling used goods. To grow, you’ll want as many sellers and as much inventory on your site as possible, so in the beginning, you might be fine with onboarding minors who are trying to earn extra money. It’s critical to think through and implement restrictions on their experience from the start, perhaps limiting the dollar value of what they can sell or their number of transactions prior to requesting reverification with more stringent requirements. 

While you want to make onboarding as seamless and easy as possible for good users, putting the right restrictions in place, even early on through testing different flows, helps you scale and learn more about your users. 

There’s no single way to verify user ages online. You’ll probably need to apply multiple methods to verify and reverify users across different age groups. You could undertake this task on your own, which requires a serious investment of your company’s time and resources. Or, you can turn to an age verification provider that can do the heavy lifting for you.

Experts discuss age verification processes and tools

What to look for in a digital age verification solution

Here are a few aspects to consider when looking to implement a digital age verification solution — whether it’s your own solution or from an external provider: 

  • It doesn’t store underage data. Look for providers that can maintain an audit trail of your onboarded users without storing any underage users’ PII. 
  • It’s easy to integrate and deploy. Consider solutions that require low- or no-code configuration. You want to make sure you can stay agile and meet shifting regulations and compliance requirements by choosing a solution that enables nontechnical teams to make changes easily without needing engineering support. Find an age verification provider that can also plug into your platform and existing identity stack without compromising other critical functions. 
  • It offers an easy-to-understand user experience. Ensure your users can readily understand what is being asked of them and why. Look for a flexible solution that allows you to test different flows and return data on pass rates and where good users are dropping off. This type of flexibility and transparency allows you to test hypotheses about your core audiences and continually improve upon them.
  • You can adjust the onboarding flow depending on your business model. Make sure your provider enables a quick setup that allows you to create new flows and step up or down friction as needed without having to tap into your engineering resources. For example, you may want to expand age verification to different user groups in the future or set up a specific flow that allows for a parent or guardian’s consent.

You could build your own solution, but updating and maintaining it could quickly become unwieldy. Or you can go with Persona, an identity infrastructure platform that powers age verification for Coffee Meets Bagel, Lime, Playboy, and many other companies across industries. 

Why choose Persona as your digital age verification solution

At Persona, we know every business has unique identity verification (IDV) needs. That’s why we built our platform to be configurable and flexible. We provide product “building blocks” so you can customize workflows and continually fine-tune them to boost conversion rates, increase operational efficiency, and comply with relevant regulations. 

Persona can help verify user ages, protect your website or mobile application from bad actors, and increase conversions. We can provide you with a no- or low-code integration of our digital age verification technology, which includes:

  • Automated government ID upload and capture
  • Selfie capture with facial analysis and age estimation
  • Integrated database checks to verify ages and identities
  • Assessment without data storage, so you can stay compliant with regulations pertaining to underage users’ PII
  • Dynamic user experience that you can customize based on your business needs and risk tolerance
  • Customized branding so the verification experience feels native to your platform

Here are the top reasons customers choose Persona to verify ages and identities in a user-friendly way:

Stay compliant in your age checks and have an audit trail ready

It’s hard to think of an industry that won’t be impacted by age verification regulations. Whether you operate in the U.S. or in different countries, Persona works with you to understand your business needs and age requirements across the world. We consistently update our platform as new laws are passed and can help you stay compliant and maintain an audit trail if local regulators assess you at any point. 

Persona enables you to prove your compliance with local and country-specific age requirements without data storage. In our dashboard, you can keep a record of users’ age-verification checks and configurations to build a reliable audit trail without storing any PII in your system. 

Compliance is king, and from a city perspective, it's binary. You're either compliant or you're not. And it's really difficult to predict what types of new use cases we'll get asked for. Persona’s customizability doesn’t just help us meet the needs we have now, but also helps us future-proof for other use cases we know will eventually come down the line as we expand to other markets.
Anissa Chen
Senior Product Manager at Lime

Find the right balance between conversions and compliance assurance

Persona helps you set up the right verification checks to quickly onboard good users while keeping bad actors off. Most decisions take just five seconds, so users can get verified quickly and be on their way.

Through Verifications, you can balance compliance requirements with user conversion by building a program suited to your particular industry or use case and request different types of information. 

For example, a common flow component is a government ID upload. We use the date of birth on the ID to determine if the individual meets the age requirement. You can also choose to run additional checks to:

  • Assess if the ID is valid
  • Check ID information against issuing databases
  • Check the ID against blocklists to avoid onboarding repeat offenders

Depending on your risk tolerance and compliance requirements, you can set up your onboarding flow to layer on additional verifications for further assurance. 

For example, after a user uploads an ID, you can also set your verifications flow to collect a selfie to ensure an underage individual isn't using their parents’ ID to check out. If we uncover a mismatch between the selfie and the ID, we block them from continuing their transaction or the onboarding process. 

There are many other ways we can help you onboard good users and reduce drop off:

  • Guiding users through the verification process
  • Leveraging auto-capture to minimize data entry errors
  • Enabling users to switch between devices, e.g. signing up for a service on their laptop and taking and uploading a selfie from their phone
  • Supporting more than 200 countries and territories and 20 languages 
Persona enables us to seamlessly customize the verification process, accounting for the unique needs and forms of identification across Coursera’s global learner community.
Shravan Goli
Chief Product Officer at Coursera

Onboard your users with customizable workflows

Our modular approach allows you to build and automate a digital age verification system quickly and easily. With Persona, you can clone one of our existing verification flows, modify it to match your business needs, and create as many customized flows as required. You can start with a single flow and add more as you go, and you can tweak flows based on geographies if you operate across borders. 

Let’s say you’re a marketplace that sells age-restricted goods. You can set up a workflow to reverify users before purchase to ensure that underage shoppers don’t buy products they should not have access to. You can also verify the ages and identities of your delivery team to ensure anyone handling age-restricted goods is who they say they are and trustworthy. 

However many markets and age groups you serve, with Persona you can choose to verify and reverify ages and identities across the user’s lifecycle. Our Dynamic Flow product allows you to add or reduce friction based on user signals and customizable, automated verifications can help minimize manual review. 

We have a lot of different use cases — everything from the types of documents we accept to local regulations and the types of data we need to collect. Persona’s customizability stood apart — it was the best, most flexible option to meet all of our different needs.
Anissa Chen
Senior Product Manager at Lime

Want to go beyond basic age verification? Don’t have engineering resources? Reach out today so we can help you create customized age verification processes without tapping your engineering team. 

Implement a digital age verification solution suitable for all industries

We support a variety of customers for their age verification needs, including:

  • Marketplaces selling age-restricted goods that need to enable multiparty age and identity verification
  • E-learning platforms with age requirements for instructors
  • Adult entertainment platforms that need to ensure underage users are not accessing content
  • Gaming platforms that need to ensure users only have access to content and interactions that are appropriate for their age group
  • Online gambling companies that need to ensure underage users are not being onboarded or accessing or using their services
  • Social networks that need to ensure only the correct age groups can interact

Catch age-related irregularities in existing accounts, prevent fraud, and more—all from one place

Persona can do more than help you verify users’ ages during onboarding. Our unified identity platform and variety of products can help you investigate your current accounts, uncover risky behavior, and prevent bad actors from accessing your platform — all from one place. Our solutions include reverification at key moments, link analysis to surface hidden links among suspicious accounts, and more.

With Persona, you can unify your compliance, fraud, and trust and safety efforts to protect your business and create a trusted experience for your users in the short, medium, and long term.

How to implement age verification with Persona

Persona helps companies safely and securely verify the ages of their users, decrease fraud, and maintain trusted communities. 

Here are two examples of Persona age verification flows:

1. Sample age verification flow for underage users

Here’s what your flow might look like for users under 18 or 21. The flow will vary, depending on the age group being verified and whether parent or guardian consent is required. 

  1. Users take a selfie. Using Verifications and Dynamic Flow, you can set your onboarding flow to bypass ID document uploads in the first step of a selfie verification
  2. You can automate a request for additional information. An additional-information request can be triggered through Workflows. Here’s where you can automatically request the user take a photo of their ID, for example. 
  3. Ask for parental consent. If the user doesn’t have a government-issued ID, you can ask for parental consent, also through Workflows. The user’s parent or guardian can complete the onboarding for them by providing their own ID. 
  4. Persona performs a database verification. In Verifications, we can extract information from uploaded IDs and check the information provided against issuing databases, such as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) database. The user is approved or denied based on our findings and your age requirements.

2. Age verification flow for adult users

Here’s what your flow can look like when you verify adult users’ age with Persona:

  1. Users take a picture of their ID. Use our Verifications product to onboard adult users. Verifications determines the authenticity of the ID by extracting the date of birth and other information, and can check it against issuing databases. Users can be automatically approved, denied, or sent for manual review.
  2. Add a bit of friction when you need it. If there’s concern that individuals may be using someone else’s ID, you can also request a selfie for extra verification through Dynamic Flow.
  3. Reverify users across their lifecycle. If you suspect different age groups are interacting with each that shouldn’t, you can ask users to reverify their accounts through our Workflows product.

Persona powers age verification that’s compliant, accurate, and comprehensive. 

With our trusted and automated identity infrastructure, age verifications typically take around five seconds — much faster than traditional identity verification providers that use manual review processes, which can take hours or days to return results.

Want to get started with a drag-and-drop, no-code solution? Use our Hosted Flow Integration. Or, if you’re technically inclined and prefer a low-code integration, choose our Embedded Integration and our Mobile SDKs. 

To better understand how Persona can work for you, here’s an example of how one of our customers uses our digital age verification solutions.

How Persona helps an online alcohol marketplace upgrade its age verification experience

A wine and liquor marketplace came to us because it wanted to upgrade its basic age-gated checks and was heavily reliant on drivers and other couriers physically checking IDs with the recipient upon delivery. It wanted to make sure its digital age verification solution complied with regulations in the various jurisdictions it operated in and seamlessly created an audit trail ready to prove it didn’t provide alcohol to anyone under age. 

Our team put together different customized flows, balancing compliance across markets where legal drinking ages vary with the right amount of friction to stop underage users from opening an account or of-age account holders from sending alcohol to underage individuals. 

With Persona, the marketplace first implemented a common flow of:

  • Requesting a government ID
  • Checking the date of birth on the ID
  • Running different checks to assess if the ID is valid or appears fake
  • Checking the ID against an integrated database to see if it has been reported as fake in the past

The marketplace used our selfie verification tool to collect selfies that Persona can cross-check with the submitted ID. This provides further assurance that the customer placing the order is the same person in the submitted ID. 

In countries where there are varying age limits for alcohol consumption, the marketplace implements more complex flows. In parts of the world where the legal drinking age is the same throughout the country, it runs a simple government ID check. One flow includes the courier’s scan of the customer’s ID presented upon delivery so it can be cross-checked against the ID given during checkout. 

This flexible, end-to-end solution reduces the marketplace’s manual reviews, ensures compliance across the customer lifecycle, and increases verification and user reliability. 

With Persona, the marketplace now performs automated age verifications that:

  • Are compliant in multiple locations across the world
  • Come with the flexibility to match its use cases
  • Offer the ease of use its trust and safety teams, couriers, and customers need

Verify your users’ ages with Persona

Now you know just how nuanced digital age verification can be and what to look for in a digital age verification solution. 

With Persona, you can achieve the delicate balance that age verification requires. You can comply with regional and privacy regulations, adjust flows based on user signals, apply just the right amount of friction to let good actors in, and keep an audit trail for when you need it. 

Ready to get started? Reach out to book a demo or try Persona today.

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Frequently asked questions

Can adult verification be proven by phone?

If you have a data-sharing agreement with mobile network operators (MNOs), it might be possible to verify a user’s age by phone number. In order for this to work, you would collect a user’s phone number and then query the MNOs’ database of customers, specifically checking the age of the customer associated with the phone number. 

But this isn’t foolproof. An underage user might provide a phone number that isn’t theirs — for example, a child might input their parent’s phone number, or that of an older friend — in order to access your website. In order to prevent this, you would need to pair the technique with other verification methods, such as device verification.

Likewise, verifying age by phone number may not meet the requirements of certain laws, which may specifically require government ID verification.

Can Social Security numbers be used to verify age?

One form of SSN verification works by collecting a user’s Social Security number, name, and date of birth, and then comparing them against official records on a pass/fail basis. With this in mind, it can potentially be used to verify a user’s age (by confirming whether or not the date of birth provided by the user is, in fact, truthful).

Of course, SSN verification cannot detect instances of identity theft. With this in mind, it’s often paired with other verification methods.

What are the online age verification regulations in the U.S.?

In the United States, businesses must abide by both the state and federal laws and regulations that dictate age verification requirements for the sale, distribution, and delivery of age-restricted goods like alcohol and tobacco.

At the federal level, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 prohibits businesses from selling alcohol to people under the age of 21. Prior to that law, each state was allowed to enact its own, sometimes differing, laws.

At the state level, Louisiana and California both recently passed laws requiring certain online businesses to perform age verification. 

The Louisiana law, Act No. 440, specifically applies to companies that sell or distribute pornography online. The law requires that those businesses verify a user is at least 18 years of age before being granted access to adult content. While Act No. 440 doesn’t require all businesses to use a specific type of verification, it does call out government ID verification and database verification as two potential options. 

The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (AADC) applies to any business that is likely to be accessed by children. It requires those businesses to implement more robust privacy policies for any user younger than 18 years. Companies that fail to comply with the requirements of the law could face penalties as high as $7,500 per violation, per child. 

While the law doesn’t specifically require age verification, many industry experts believe that businesses will turn to age verification to comply with the requirements of the law and avoid such steep penalties. AADC goes into effect in July 2024.

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