Is it too easy for underage buyers to order alcohol on the Web?

UNC Chapel Hill cyber-detectives are heading out on a new quest to track down underage sin.

Students between 18 and 20 – under academic and legal supervision – will be recruited for a $400,000 study later this year to test how easy it is to order alcohol on the Web. The same researchers running the alcohol study helped put a major dent in online cigarette sales to minors with similar tests earlier this decade.

The number of underage people who buy booze over the Internet is not known. But at some sites, a mouse click asserting that a buyer is 21 appears to be the only proof a minor needs to buy liquor, wine or beer. Offshore locations, variations in law from state to state, and the chance to avoid sales tax have all contributed to the growth of online alcohol-marketing sites.

“They don't do enough to keep underage people from buying,” said Laura Borders, 18, an N.C. School of Science and Mathematics senior who's doing a preliminary survey of sites for the project.

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