Falsifying Customs Documents at Buyer's Request
inMay 22, 2009 - 1:52pm
Because some countries assess a Value Added Tax or VAT on imported goods, a buyer located in these countries will occasionally request a seller falsify key fields of information on customs documentation so that their tax liability will be lessened. This is comparable to a U.S. citizen casually asking that his or her accountant monkey with individual amounts on Schedule A of their income tax form in order to illegally reduce the total amount they will owe.
A buyer might request an item be declared a ‘Gift’ rather than Merchandise, they may ask that a jewelry piece be described as 'costume' rather than declaring it to be made of precious stones or metals. Sometimes buyers may request that a seller enter a much lower price instead of actual item value (the price they paid). These actions can either drastically lower the VAT cost of the imported goods to the buyer, or completely eliminate any additional cost to them.
On occasion, too, buyers might ask that their purchase be declared to be something it is not. They may request that on a customs form a seller state their package contains another type of item entirely. When this occurs it is generally requested because an item they are purchasing abroad is something that is prohibited entry into their country, and they know it.
While sellers may view acceding to these not uncommon requests as a courtesy to the buyer, or maybe as just a way to help themselves secure the sale, in falsifying a customs declaration for a buyer you will be effectively skirting the laws of another country. In doing this a seller can set themselves up for several awkward possibilities, none of which are good. Consider these potential scenarios:
So, in this scenario, the USPS would reimburse the shipper their actual declared value of only $25, even though the item really sold to the buyer for $250. Again, expect the buyer to seek reimbursement for the full amount they originally paid. The seller can protest but won’t have much ground on which to stand since they committed themselves to the lower ‘paid’ value when they falsified the official documentation. If the buyer used a credit card, too, they would certainly have no problem at all obtaining full value back from the seller via a chargeback for failure to deliver the merchandise.
If a buyer asks that you enter false information for their shipment, there is nothing wrong with politely informing them that all customs documentation will be completed accurately. Let them know this is for their protection, as well as your own. Many foreign buyers innocently ask for ‘gift’ considerations or lower values on forms only because friends or family have told them it is quite an acceptable request for them to make when buying on the Internet.
I ran into a situation today that I hadn't really thought about before. A fellow in The Netherlands bought a very small (2" long)
While realistically a two inch penknife would indeed seem to be more useful for whittling wood, rather than useful as a weapon, the accuracy (or purposeful inaccuracy) of disclosures made on customs forms concerning the contents of a package should not be related only to a sincere desire to ship the product.
To know in advance whether an item can legally be shipped into a particular country we recommend always checking for importation prohibitions and shipment restrictions before sending the package. Don’t expect a buyer to be any more knowledgeable about prohibited items than you or assume if it wasn't OK to send something to them they would not have placed the order for it.
The USPS Web site offers a page of links to all things pertaining to international shipments in their International Mail Manual. This would be a good page for U. S. based shops to bookmark for reference if they regularly ship internationally:
Another good page to bookmark if frequently shipping abroad from the U.S.:
Don't assume that the type of item you are shipping is innocuous, perfectly harmless, or simply so wonderful another country couldn't possibly want to keep it out. Prohibitions are usually placed to protect a country’s inhabitants or economic base. Shipping restrictions are often put in place for the protection of the shipper or the importer (your buyer), or both. Check before you assume that whatever you want to send is fine.
We offer from the USPS website types of prohibited items to illustrate samples of shipping restrictions by country, as of the date of this writing:
Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Includes England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Sark, and the Isle of Man)
Some countries also have expectations in regard to ‘gift’ shipments. For example:
Gift shipments must be sent by private individuals. Those sent by commercial firms are not admitted. Import permits are required for gift shipments exceeding three per year for one addressee, or for any shipment exceeding 3,000 Czech Republic crowns in value. Permits may be issued to addressees or withheld at the discretion of the customs authorities after the shipment arrives.
To prevent delivery delays, return of merchandise or seizure by Customs, we highly recommend reading the small print before entering false information on an official Customs document. For instance some official USPS forms will include this information:
Note: It is the sender’s responsibility to inquire and comply with the prescribed laws governing domestic and international mail and to find out what documents (invoices, certificate of origin, health certificates, etc.), if any, are required in the country of destination.
A section of the article, “Packing A Punch - Star Quality Shipping Tips” in the Managing Your Shop section of the Selling Successfully page offers additional guidance for packaging and sending International shipments. (The Selling Successfully section of Ruby Lane is only available to Ruby Lane shop owners.)
Ruby Lane can’t do more than advise you on the process of filling out customs documentation papers, folks, but a word to the wise should be sufficient. And that word is ‘truth.’ You will, after all, be signing a customs declaration and that signed statement will stand later, should any shipping issues arise regarding that package.