With half-term looming, Birmingham shopkeepers are being warned to beware a setup by undercover children investigators.
Trading Standards officers are increasingly using the tactic of sending youngsters into shops in school holidays to check if they are illegally selling the likes of computer games, solvents, alcohol and cigarettes to children.
Law firm Shoosmiths, which has an office in Birmingham, is urging businesses to take precautions to stop themselves breaching the law on under-age sales.
Shoosmiths partner David Egan, who has many years experience of advising and defending clients facing prosecutions for breaches of regulations, said increasing numbers of retailers were falling foul of the ploy.
Those that do could pay a heavy price - with penalties like a £5,000 fine and two years imprisonment for offences including selling lottery tickets to under-16s.
Calling on them to introduce their own safeguards, he cautioned: "Such actions can be defended by showing that all reasonable precautions were taken and sufficient systems were in place to prevent sales to under-aged customers."
Mr Egan urged training for all staff so they understand what are age-restricted products, as not all are labelled as such.
Trading Standards officers are also expected to target internet sales of age-restricted goods after on-line retailers were criticised about the lack of both the information given about age restrictions and attempts to establish the buyer's age.
"There are precautions that every retailer can take," added Mr Egan. "These include noting articles which contain blades, solvents, petrol or any type of firework as well as ensuring staff receive regular refresher training. That should cover reminders to call a manager or supervisor if they have any doubt over a customer's age, demanding photographic proof as well as reinforcing the need that only staff aged over 18 are permitted to sell such products."
Retailers are also recommended to post permanent reminders of the law and penalties, and staff prompts, at the till and on the notice boards about the age requirement on controlled goods. A refusals book should be kept and relevant products kept out of the reach of children.
Online sales should include prominent information on the relevant age restrictions and ensure the purchaser must confirm they are over the age required.
"If they are prosecuted retailers may be able to defend themselves by showing they took 'all reasonable precautions' to avoid under-age sales," said Mr Egan. "But they must produce documentation to demonstrate their systems are properly super-vised and audited.
"Although not an exhaustive list of measures that can be taken, these precautions should prevent unlawful sales of age-restricted products and provide a possible defence if any slip-ups occur."