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Ministry: Minors in Finland use loophole to order alcohol from online stores abroad

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, a buyer's age is not being definitively verified by suppliers.

Sawon Viina pulloja Lignell & Piispasen varastossa.
Yle learned of one case one case where students in grades 7 to 9, or from ages 12 to 15, were ordering alcohol shipments to post box addresses. Image: Antti Karhunen / Yle

Finnish and EU authorities have been negotiating over differences in legislation on the sale of alcohol into Finland from abroad for a number of years, and the legal wrangling has left a loophole in the law.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, this means that in practice the age of a customer in Finland purchasing alcohol online from a supplier abroad may not be definitively verified at any stage.

"Sales to minors are not monitored at all if these drinks are sent to a delivery pickup box or at the front door [of the buyer's home]," according to ministry director Ismo Tuominen.

Tuominen told Yle that he is aware of one case where the principal of a school warned parents that students in grades 7 to 9, or from ages 12 to 15, were ordering alcohol shipments to pickup boxes, which are commonly found in supermarkets and kiosks.

Some freight companies may also follow a customer's instructions to leave the order outside an address, meaning the age of the recipient is not checked, Tuominen added.

Is a tick in the box enough?

Of course, online stores that sell alcohol to Finland technically do ask for confirmation of the customer's age.

However, checking someone's age with a mere click is not considered by the ministry to be an effective age limit control.

The method of payment does not necessarily reveal the age of the subscriber either. In principle, minors cannot obtain their own credit cards in Finland, but a so-called 'parallel card' can be obtained at the age of 15.

As with many other online stores, there are numerous other payment options available with websites selling alcohol. Money can be transferred via Paypal or bitcoin, for example, as well as with a standard online bank payment.

Criminal reports filed over online sales

Finland's National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Valvira, has recently started to intervene more strictly in the area of online alcohol trade.

In the autumn, the authority filed criminal reports against about a dozen companies that did not have the required permit for the wholesale or retail sale of alcohol in Finland.

One of the reasons for filing the criminal reports has been the lack of checks on age of customers. The strict position of the Ministry and Valvira is that according to Finnish law, alcohol may not be delivered to a pickup box or left outside a property, for example, precisely because the age of the buyer cannot be verified.

Alko online orders only obtainable by showing ID

Within the borders of Finland, only Alko is currently allowed to sell alcohol online.

The state-owned alcohol retailer cannot deliver packages directly to homes but only to its own outlets or else to more than a hundred designated pick-up points across the country.

During the coronavirus period, the number of packages delivered by Alko's online store has increased by more than 90 percent, and the retailer ensures that age checks are carried out.

"The ID and age of each person picking up a package is checked," Alko's Regional Manager Tatu Vanninen said.

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