Forget Fake IDs: Can Kids Buy Alcohol on eBay?

Health & Fitness

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ABC News(NEW YORK) — The online marketplace eBay is a popular site for bidding on rare finds and selling your own household treasures, but resourceful teens might also find another use for it: scoring booze.

While eBay prohibits the sale of all alcohol with the exception of some wines sold by licensed wine sellers, it does allow for the sale of collectible alcohol containers. The site’s alcohol policy states that the seller of the container “will take all appropriate steps to ensure that the buyer is of lawful age in the buyer’s and seller’s jurisdiction.”

But that didn’t stop one teen who worked with 20/20 from obtaining alcohol through the site. We asked Xander, 13, to head to the site and try to buy liquor there. One vendor refused to sell his product when Xander and a 20/20 producer declined to send a copy of an ID showing that the buyer was of legal drinking age. But Xander was able to successfully place an order with two other vendors.

“All I had to do was type in vodka on the search bar, click one button and it can send it to my house,” Xander told 20/20. (A 20/20 producer paid for the purchases.)

Weeks later, five bottles of vodka arrived at Xander’s front door.

In a statement to 20/20, eBay reiterated its policy that it prohibits the general sale of alcohol and only allows sales of wine by pre-approved, licensed sellers.

“Sellers are required to take all appropriate steps to ensure that the buyer is of lawful age. We prohibit the general sale of alcohol and we have zero tolerance for anyone who violates our policies. When violations occur, we take appropriate action as we have done in this case,” the company said.

The company said it has taken action against the two vendors who sold alcohol to Xander.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that many Internet alcohol vendors fail to verify that customers are of legal drinking age. In a report on a study released in May, researchers said that underage study participants successfully ordered alcohol online 45 times from popular vendors, including eBay.

“With just a few clicks on their computer or smartphone, kids can order alcohol delivered to their home,” lead study author Rebecca Williams, a research associate at UNC, said after the study’s release. “We were amazed at how easy it was for minors to buy alcohol online.”

Williams said that researchers found listings on eBay that were not in line with the site’s own criteria for what constitutes an alcohol-related collectible.

The site states that the contents of the collectible must not be intended for consumption, that the value of the item is in its container, not its contents, and that the item must not be available in any retail outlet.

“Our simple searches revealed countless unrestricted listings by the sellers of common liquors that clearly didn’t meet any of the criteria, such as varieties of Bacardi rum available at any liquor store,” Williams said.

In its statement to 20/20, eBay said “We continue to strengthen our policy enforcement efforts to ensure a trusted marketplace for our customers.”

What remains unclear, Williams said, is how often teens today are actually using eBay and other online retailers to purchase alcohol. A 2006 study sponsored by the wine industry found that just 2 percent of teens reported buying alcohol online. Williams said she hopes to do her own study on the subject, through a nationally representative survey, next year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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