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EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 159 - January 22, 2006 - ISSN 1528-6703     5 of 8

When a Gift is Not a Gift: How (not) to fill out a customs form

By Brian Cohen

January 22, 2006

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If you are like me and actually report your eBay income to the IRS, you consider yourself to be a socially responsible Netizen.

Sometimes our civic duties are tested, however. What should you do when a foreign bidder asks you to mark a winning bid item as a "GIFT?" 'Tis the season to give gifts is it not? Perhaps you could try to rationalize the idea of gift-giving by including an actual small "gift" with your shipment?

I hate to be the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but as innocuous as it may sound, the bidder has just asked you to forge shipping papers and dodge their country's law and our Federal law.

Any person who knowingly submits false or misleading export information through the Shippers Export Declaration (SED) (or any successor document) shall be subject to a fine not to exceed $10,000 per violation or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both. Source: U.S. Code: Title 13 : Section 305 http://digbig.com/4fqcw.

The sender's failure to complete the form properly can delay delivery of the item or inconvenience the sender and addressee. Moreover, a false, misleading, or incomplete declaration can result in the seizure or return of the item and/or in criminal or civil penalties. Source: http://pe.usps.gov/text/Imm/immc1_002.html.

Recently a Canadian bidder asked me to mark an item sold for less than $10 U.S. as a gift. I informed the bidder that I would mark the item as "Other" (Non-Gift), and because the item was sold for less than $20 Canadian, (approximately $17.25 U.S.) it was not subject to all tariffs and duties. (Goods imported into Canada, valued at $20CDN or more, are subject to all duties and taxes. Source: http://www.canadapost.ca/tools/pg/manual/b06-e.asp.)

An auction is usually considered a binding contract, however, it is possible that a bidder's request to commit fraud would alter the transaction thus making the auction void and non-binding http://digbig.com/4fqfn.

Bidders might also try to avoid duties by asking you to alter (forge) the valuation of the auction item that they won. However, the amount declared as "Value" seems to be more of an art than that of science. Should you mark down an appraised value? The actual value sold? The average value sold on eBay for the past 90 days?

There are different understandings of the interpretation of "value" as understood by Article VII GATT and the Brussels Definition of value. More information is available at the following URL, which is appropriately entitled, "Non Tariff-barriers: red tape, etc. (http://digbig.com/4fqfp), which includes the "Six Methods of Evaluation." In the past, for items worth less than $2,500, I have marked the item as the final bid price and provided a printout of the eBay auction containing the price to include with the shipment (the "evidence of sale"). Note that you should not confuse the declared "Value" with the Value used for insurance purposes as they are not necessarily one in the same (and declaring the "Value" on customs form is not a form of insurance).

More Info: http://digbig.com/4fqfq (Legal Text of WTO including Article VII Customs Valuation).

Following is USPS' guidance in filling out foreign shipping forms: http://webapps.usps.com/customsforms/helppickaform.htm

Sample Forms are located at: http://www.usps.com/forms/intlforms.htm

Following is Canada Posts' guidance in filling out foreign shipping forms:

UPS International Forms for Export

Fedex Export Advisory Questions

DHL Electronic Export Filer

The best way to prevent a Bidder from requesting forged customs documents from the get-go is to state in the auction, "The winning responsible for all Tariff and Duties," and when bidders ask to circumvent the law, cite those policies. If that is not enough, you could even send them a copy of this article. Note: the Author is not an attorney and this should not be considered legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before making any contractual decisions for your business.

Additional Resources

eBay's International Trade Forum

Suggestions to eBay on improving international trade

US Census Bureau Correct Way to Fill Out the Shipper's Export Declaration

Foreign Trade Statistics Forms

Export.gov - The U.S. Government Export Portal

US Customs and Border Protection

World Customs Organization

World Trade Organization

About the author:

Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998. He currently trades under the member name Bidofthis.com. His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian can be contacted through his website at http://www.bidofthis.com where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That."

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