Underage liquor sale dismays father

NOT HAPPY: Mr. Gavin Holmes outside The Mill, Angelsea street, talks about how his son was able to purchase alcohol on-line even though he is underage.
NOT HAPPY: Mr. Gavin Holmes outside The Mill, Angelsea street, talks about how his son was able to purchase alcohol on-line even though he is underage.

A Hamilton father is calling on The Mill to overhaul the security of its online store after the liquor retailer sold his underage son a $29.99 bottle of Red Square Vodka.

Gavin Holmes complained to The Mill general manager Bevan Seddon about his 17-year-old son's order which was delivered to their Hamilton East home.

The boy had used his debit card to pay for the order which his father took delivery of from Post Haste Couriers.

Holmes suspected it was alcohol and had his son open the package in front of him.

Holmes, who has also complained to police, is concerned all it took was a valid debit card and a couple of mouse clicks and thinks thousands of other teens have the same opportunity as his son.

Debit cards are available to anyone over 15, while alcohol can only be bought by an 18-year-old or older.

Holmes said while he was proud of his son, he didn't think he was much different to most teenagers who wanted to get their hands on alcohol.

When Holmes called The Mill's head office in Taranaki he asked Seddon how the company ensured online shoppers were over 18.

"He replied purchasers had to click on a bar on entering the website to confirm they were over 18.

"When I suggested this wasn't terribly secure he indicated that because our son was prepared to lie about his age we had failed in our moral duty as parents," Holmes said.

"I felt absolutely crushed by this criticism as we have done our very best to instil our Christian values in our children."

Seddon denies being critical of Holmes.

"If Gavin has interpreted what I said as 'Gavin is a bad parent' that's just not true. I did make a comment about his son lying when he clicked the button . . . All parents should be accountable for the actions of their teenage children."

Holmes then told Seddon his website "was about as secure as cottonwool nappies".

"In this day and age, with the technology available, it must surely be possible to make a website more secure."

A Waikato Times reporter was able to create a fake profile, using the name John Smith and the email address Time.Lord.Doctor.Who@Outlook.com, and order alcohol without providing any proof of his age.

Seddon denied any wrongdoing in the case of Holmes' son's purchase.

"We have two age gates on our sites, so both of those age gates require the purchaser to confirm that they are over 18. We are actually only required to have one but we do have two. We have one when they enter the site and one when they confirm purchase."

When the Times pointed out there was no process for verifying the age of a buyer,  Seddon said: "How can you do that online? The age gate is confirming that they are over age, and our sites are no different to other liquor purchasing websites.

"If a person tells lies to us and says they are over 18 when they are not, how do we know that they are not?"

Holmes suggested buyers should have to register at a physical store, with several identifying documents, in order to prove their age before they can make their first purchase online.

"So what's to stop someone stealing someone else's documentation and passwords and going and doing it anyway?" Seddon replied.

"This profile that this kid I am assuming has used, he has lied twice to say that I am over 18, and that could happen anywhere."

Asked whether he thought The Mill had broken the law in this case, Seddon said. "Not where it has been proven that the minor has lied and provided false ID, no we're not.

"We don't want this to happen. It feels like you are trying to make us out to be the bad guys here and we're out there selling a million dollars of booze to underage kids. That's not what we are trying to do."

Sergeant Jim Kernohan, of Hamilton police, said he was looking into the complaint.

"It's a concern," Kernohan said. "It's not a problem that has come to police attention very much as parents deal with this sort of thing at home and don't feel the need to ring the police and complain about it."

Seddon said The Mill had told couriers not to deliver packages to anyone who appeared to be underage.

"If there's no-one at the address and they have a special instruction to leave the package if there's no-one there they can't do anything about that."

Families Affected by Addiction founder Ruth Moore described Holmes' story as shocking.

"When is it going to stop? Does it have to take a 10-year-old to buy booze? I just cringe."

Waikato Times