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Shops caught out in underage videogame sales sting

Three stores sell 18 rated titles to minors

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Several High Street stores have been named and shamed for selling 18-rated videogames to a 15-year-old underage girl during an undercover operation by Harrow Trading Standards and consumer advocate Which?.

The girl was enough pocket money to try to buy games from nine shops, including HMV, Debenhams, Currys Digital, Tesco and Argos. Three stores - Woolworths, Game and Maplin - broke the law by selling the girl age-restricted videogames, Which? alleges.

Under the Video Recordings Act, it’s an offence to sell a videogame to someone who hasn’t reached the age set by the title’s certification, which is awarded by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

Woolworths sold the girl Grand Theft Auto – Vice City Stories - although we’re not sure why she didn’t opt for that latest version, GTA IV. The girl also chose and was supplied with Condemned 2 from Game, and Hitman from Maplin.

Shockingly, Which? claimed that Maplin’s staff actually asked the girl for her age and when she said she was 15 years old, as she had been instructed to, staff sold it to her anyway.

All three retailers said they were investigating the Which? claims.

Separately, Trading Standards officials in Wales also recently enlisted the help of several children to attempt to buy videogames from retailers operating through online auction sites. The kids paid for the goods using postal orders, which give no indication as to the buyer's age.

The operation found that in 44 attempts to buy 18-rated games online, 38 traders happily accepted the postal orders and made no effort to ensure the buyers were of a suitable age.

Lee Jones, acting head of Bridgend County Borough Council Trading Standards, suggested that age verification technology was the key to the problem. “Traders who use auction sites and accept postal orders as payment have no method of determining whether the person they are selling to is aged 18 or over,” he said. Nonetheless, he added, they have a responsibility to do so.

Age verification services are already available online, but in reality very few web-based retailers make use of them, Jones claimed.

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