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Mon Nov 15 2021 16:36:14

Think Twice Before Lying on USPS Customs Forms

By: Ina Steiner

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There are many tales of overseas buyers asking sellers to lie on USPS customs forms to save them money. One seller who acquiesced is headed to prison, though he was also charged with forging and counterfeiting hundreds of thousands of dollars in postage.

The eBay seller from Iowa was sentenced to three years in federal prison after a one-day trial in February that resulted in a verdict in March that found him guilty of seven counts of postage meter stamp forgery and counterfeiting and three counts of export violations.  

The government said that after working with representatives of eBay, law enforcement learned that the man was "taking advantage of vulnerabilities in the USPS's electronic postage payment systems to receive Priority Mail treatment for his packages even though he had only paid the First Class rate."

The Feds alleged that the eBay seller had used forged and counterfeited postage meter stamps on many of the packages he sent to his customers between 2013 and 2017.

As far as the customs forms for international orders, the government said the USPS requires shippers to make truthful declarations on exports to other countries. Shippers must truthfully declare whether a package contains merchandise or a gift and also the value of the contents of the package.  

It alleged that the eBay seller falsely certified on customs forms that his packages each contained a "gift" that was worth a nominal sum such as "$1.90," when in truth he "knew the contents of his packages were not gifts and worth more than what he listed on the forms." This allowed his packages to clear foreign customs more rapidly and possibly avoid foreign customs taxes, according to the Department of Justice's press release announcing today's sentencing.

Would the government go after a seller who lied on USPS customs forms but didn't forge postage? It may be best not to try to find the answer the hard way.



Comments (10) | Permalink

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by: Snapped This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 15 19:55:58 2021

1st observation - this appears to be post eBay Global Sales Program episode?   Wouldn’t (even) Pitney Bowes ‘repackaging’ have uncoverd these alleged ‘discrepancies’ AS they occurred?

Anyway…the law’s pretty clear:

“ 13 U.S. Code § 305 - Penalties for unlawful export information activities-

a) Criminal Penalties.—
(1) Failure to file; submission of false or misleading information.—
Any person who knowingly fails to file or knowingly submits false or misleading export information through the Shippers Export Declaration (SED) (or any successor document) or the Automated Export System (AES) shall be subject to a fine not to exceed $10,000 per violation or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both.…”

There are additional paragraphs that describe ‘aiding’ such activity, forfeiture of all properties related, and civil penalties as well.  Enforcement is the jurisdiction of the Commerce Dept (secretary of) under AG oversight, or the Customs Dept themselves.
——

So there it is basically. Just a matter of application to circ and perp.  But it seems likely regardless that the one-off or even periodic but less ‘frequent’ scofflaw likely has little to fear, extrapolating consideration for all the chaos in the supply chain.

More likely the almighty greenback is yanking some levers behind this curtain.  So it’s quite UNlikely eBay’s gonna be chirping any alarms to the Feds.  That’s all potential loss sales.   Which seems why, in this case, despite over an alleged 4 years of shenanigans, nothing ‘seemed amiss’ until the USPS noticed the label fraud, and THEN, well, eBay had no choice but to ‘help’.  

Fortunately, it looks good to hang up and weigh one of these ‘big fish’ now and then, especially getting a ‘black, white and read all over’ endorsement for such able assistance (from the same FBI that recently deposed and arrested you for terrorizing those industry journalists).

Might want to hold your ovations before considering this though - overseas buyers have been regularly (though not always of course) ‘kindly asking’ on-line sellers to do exactly what the OP says they’re prosecuting.  However, those buyers would often use FB as a weapon of retribution if a seller complied with the law, and eBay would often REFUSE to act to remove it.  

Guess (perhaps you remember) what the eBay hypocrisy policy required to even get an audience with CS for this matter.  eBay required every seller to insert specific language into their listing’s description text (the very text they have endeavored to obfuscate since), indicating that this seller (oneself) will not be writing “gift/buck-fifty” when it should say “vintage necklace/(sale price)” on the customs form - words to that effect.

And ya STILL had to call eBay.  And they STILL often didn’t remove it; instead: “just reply stating legal compliance”.  Now try to guess why.

The ultimate irony in false documentation.  An eBay hallmark.  For over a decade now.

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by: Mazdaman This user has validated their user name.

Thu Nov 18 00:29:44 2021

Every one of our listings states that we do not alter Customs values, etc. for any reason.

On more than one occasion we've refused a buyer who insisted on having us alter Customs figures or descriptions to that end; we've actually had to block a few of them after they threatened feedback negs or similar; we used to call eBay about it, but they were as helpful as a screen door on a submarine in such situations, and "Snapped" is probably correct in the reasons why they were of no help.

Lately, eBay looks the other way for buyer profanity, feedback extortion and other written eBay policies that are quite clear, and juggling the "requirements" of their "Money Back Guarantee" is nothing foreign to any sellers on eBay for more than a few years.  The desperation level at eBay has hit an all-time high.

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by: smallstuff This user has validated their user name.

Thu Nov 18 01:57:18 2021

I frequently get requests to declare a lower value especially for European buyers.  The answer is always no.  If they wish to cancel the order, I will be happy to assist.  Even repeat customers that I have met in person persist in making this request - so they must be having some success in doing so.  Those who persist, I point out that they are asking me to violate US and international customs laws.  This is not limited to eBay, it is a common problem.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: LasVagueness

Thu Nov 18 12:23:05 2021

I don't understand the 'gift' designation. My insurance and customer customs fees are never impacted by a gift designation. What is the point?  

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by: IamKAREN This user has validated their user name.

Thu Nov 18 15:02:35 2021

I now use the Global Shipping Program but way back when I shipped internationally I always declined any suggestion of fudging the value.

Aside from it being illegal, sellers who do so evidently don't consider this: If you ship and insure a $500.00  item and claim it's worth 10% of that, you're going to get back $50.00

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by: Snapped This user has validated their user name.

Thu Nov 18 16:23:27 2021

“… the 'gift' designation…”

Not so much that, but the misstated valuation.  However, using ‘gift’ when the item is actually ‘merchandise’ (result of a sale) is also illegal.  It’s just less likely to vet ‘caught’ on an individual basis.   More likely when it happens consistently.

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This user has validated their user name. by: LasVagueness

Thu Nov 18 18:04:08 2021

Thanks, @Snapped.

Like @IamKAREN stated above, if you insure for a lower amount then you are only going to get the understated amount back whether the item is a gift or merchandise. I would never take that risk.

USPS does not differentiate when it comes to insurance so I still do not understand the point of designating an item as a gift.

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by: railady This user has validated their user name.

Wed Nov 24 14:56:40 2021

@LasVagueness - Here's a good article on shipping items as "merchandise" or "gifts" : http://importing-laws.blogspot.com/2010/10/should-you-declare-merchand
ise-as-gift.html
  If I'm not mistaken, a "Gift" designation means the recipient doesn't pay duty and customs fees.  Insurance has nothing to do with it.

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by: railady This user has validated their user name.

Wed Nov 24 14:58:18 2021

My policy and opinions are the same as SmallStuff's ! And I've been lucky; I usually am not asked to declare anything a gift.  But I have that right up front in my terms.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: LasVagueness

Wed Nov 24 19:44:17 2021

@railady Thanks for the link! Whether the item is designated a gift or merchandise, the recipient always has to pay duty and customs fees based on the insured value. All my international shipments are fully insured (to protect buyer and seller) and even if I select 'gift' the recipient still has to pay the same fees as if I selected merchandise.

I guess it makes a difference if the sender chooses not to insure, but if it is a pricy INSURED parcel it doesn't matter what is selected as customs will nail the addressee regardless.  



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