Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"Be a dear and commit customs fraud for me."

As part of my job, I get to work with international customers.  We've got horns from our back room being purchased from around the world thanks to the magic of EBAY, and I've already sent emails to Singapore.  They speak English there -- better than most American university students I know.

All that globalism is fun, though it can be frustrating, too.  The person in Singapore really liked our horn design, but customs fees would have added another $150 to an originally $400 repair.  It's just not worth it when he might be able to find a local shop at much less headache, shipping-wise. 

But EBAY.  While it's fun to watch the numbers turn green and have people magically send money for stuff that's just sitting around gathering dust, there's some slimy people out there.


Yesterday, I was prepping a horn for shipment across the Atlantic to a British customer who won the auction.  Print out the receipt, carefully place it inside the case, pad it out with bubble wrap and packing peanuts, and seal off the ends to make it largely splash resistant.  Set!

Then we receive a communication from him, asking if his payment had gone through (yes, it had) and had we received his special shipping instructions in a previous email.  Concerned, I went back through our inbox to make sure that I hadn't missed a change in address or something.  Good thing I hadn't sent the package off to the post office!

His original email talks about the shipping:  he buys lots of horns, don't need to have extra insurance, American shipping works well and is trackable, etc. etc.  Then he starts talking about British customs.  "There's often a two-week wait for items and the import duty is 20%."  Yikes, that's a steep add-on cost in addition to all the shipping costs.  I feel bad for him, but he's the one buying all the horns.

I continue reading.  "Don't put an invoice inside the package--"  Crap.  I already sealed up the package, so that means slicing the tape, corralling the first layer of polystyrene peanuts, undoing the bubble wrap, and fishing it out.  Tedious, but who am I to argue with the paying customer.

"Also, please decrease the value amount on the shipment."  Whoa.  You want me to fudge the numbers on our export declaration to facilitate cheaper tariffs for you?  I don't really know anything about international shipping law, but that sure FEELS like it should be illegal.  After all, if it was above-board, wouldn't everyone do it?  Then nobody would complain about tariffs at all! 

So, Mr. British Horn-meister, you want me to knock the price down a bit so you can save a few buc----
"Please mark it as $35."

--- err....

Thirty-five dollars.  So 20% of that would be... seven dollars.  I was aghast, because the price he paid at auction was upwards of $1500.  This, from a horn whose price new is over $4,000.  He's already getting a spectacular deal on the horn and he's quibbling about import fees?  He's not even asking to go to $1,000 or something -- he's heading straight for tariffs he can pay with pocket change. 

Nice of him to realize that decreasing the price for a music instrument to ZERO DOLLARS might possibly have raised suspicions. 

Turns out that customs fraud IS actually illegal, in case anyone wonders.  But apparently, from talking to other shop workers, this kind of thing happens with basically every international customer.  I can't blame them for trying... actually, wait a minute.  I *can* blame them for trying. 

He's already paid, so if he tries to fink out on the sale, we're armed with incriminating communications stored on Ebay's own servers.  It's just so... yuck.  To ask a business in another country to become your accomplice?

Nope, sorry.  We like staying in business.

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