How do I get more info from US Customs about a stopped package?
April 20, 2010 7:33 AM   Subscribe

UPS says that US Customs has stopped a package being sent to me from Hong Kong and it is going to be destroyed, but they won't tell me how to contact Customs directly. Is something fishy going on here?

I ordered a digital camera from a company based in Hong Kong recently, which was shipped UPS. I got the tracking number and things seemed fine until last Friday, when the UPS tracking website showed a "NON-CUSTOMS GOVERNMENT AGENCY HOLD." Never having ordered anything outside the US before, I am not sure if this is standard or what, so I just wait.

I came home a few days later to find a phone message from UPS telling me that US Customs has stopped my package because it contains "jammers," and they are going to either destroy it, or, I can ask them not to, in which case they will seize it anyway, "blacklist" me (whatever that means), and then destroy it.

I then called UPS back and spoke with a woman about the situation. I asked what exactly was in the package and the woman said it was just described as "jammers," and suggested it may be cell phone or GPS jammers. I explained that that is strange, as I ordered a camera. I asked if I could contact Customs directly but she said she was not allowed to give out that information. I then asked her how I could get some sort of proof or documentation of what exactly is in this package and she suggested that I send her an e-mail which she would forward on to Customs. However, she kind of gave me the impression that she didn't think I was going to get the response I wanted (or any response at all).

I sent the e-mail anyway, requesting that they make sure the package in question really did contain these "jammers," and if so to do with them whatever they wanted, but please forward me some documentation, or a case number, or a picture, or some other proof (and of course if they discover they are in error to please send me my camera).

I also e-mailed the company that shipped the package. They responded right away and assured me that their records indicated that I had bought the camera and that is what they shipped. They offered to send me a replacement item if I was willing to pay an additional $24 for alternate shipping, but I am reluctant to do so until I hear more from UPS/Customs.

My question is, does something seem wrong here? Is it weird that UPS wouldn't give me contact information to talk to Customs directly about it? Should I be talking directly with Customs? If so, who do I call? Am I being scammed somehow (I paid via PayPal so I am pretty confident I will get a refund, but still). What is going on?
posted by Menthol to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If this were me. I would stop payment and order the camera from another source. What is your time and energy worth?
posted by HuronBob at 7:46 AM on April 20, 2010

Does the camera have WiFi or GPS onboard?

posted by Menthol at 7:53 AM on April 20, 2010

Definitely talk to Customs. Depending on how UPS is handling things, your package may be part of a consolidated shipment, listed on the same bill of lading with other imports from Hong Kong, and one of those other packages may actually be gumming up the works. The non-Customs government agency that's placed the hold is most likely the FCC, as they require proper forms to be filled out whenever electronics are being imported into the US.

Here's the contact page for Customs and Border Protection. Depending on where you are vs. where your package is being held, find the appropriate port and start calling. Get whatever paperwork that your shipper can provide, and be prepared to send copies to whoever at Customs asks for it. You may need to speak to a Customs entry specialist, you may need to talk to someone at the FCC, whose information you should be able to get from the Customs officer. Ask UPS if they have filed an entry with Customs, and if you can have the entry number to reference when you are making your phone calls. Either that, or get a bill of lading number. Be patient and persistent.

[I work in a US Customs brokerage office, I have to do this kind of thing every day. It's a pain in the ass, and Customs is temperamental about returning phone calls. UPS, in my experience, is a mess to deal with. ]

Good luck! MeMail me if you'd like.
posted by alynnk at 8:10 AM on April 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Would this be a company known for shipping cellphone jammers under false labels (eg: DealExtreme)?

If so, Customs has probably decided that they're just going to unofficially ban everything from this company without bothering to investigate each item. I doubt the agents have even opened the box; they probably just identified the seller, and tossed it into the "crush" bin. They're gambling that the level of effort required to investigate each item is greater than the level of effort required to listen to your complaints. other words, what alynnk said, only with a more cynical slant on it (I hate Customs/Immigration staff, as they're overpaid surly morons who make the DMV seem efficient). So listen to her and do what she says, but be prepared for it to be a giant waste of time.
posted by aramaic at 8:19 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did the phone message say that UPS would blacklist you or that the government would? That sounds really fishy either way. is the place to look for information and phone numbers, like alynnk said.
posted by soelo at 8:25 AM on April 20, 2010

Would this be a company known for shipping cellphone jammers under false labels (eg: DealExtreme)?

No, as far as I can tell they don't offer any kind of jamming device at all.

Did the phone message say that UPS would blacklist you or that the government would? That sounds really fishy either way

My understanding was that Customs would blacklist me, though it was fuzzy what that meant.
posted by Menthol at 8:37 AM on April 20, 2010

Just as an update, this may be the cause of my problem:

I have a digital camera that was brought into the US under an exemption or waiver of the FCC's Verification procedures. The device has now met the Verification standards and the manufacturer would like to label the devices as such. May the devices be labeled as Verified?

•Pursuant to Subpart K of Part 2, and specifically Section 2.1202(a) of the Commission's rules, cameras are excluded from the importation rules. This may be the exemption to which you refer. Pursuant to our marketing rules under Section 2.803, cameras must comply with our Verification standards and should therefore be labeled prior to marketing. However, if the camera is marketed to be connected to a personal computer with a wire, it is a Class B computer peripheral and should instead be subject to Declaration of Conformity (DoC) Sections 2.1071-2.1077 of our Rules, or Certification Section 2.1033, et al.

I'm not an expert, but it looks like regular cameras don't need any special paperwork, but trying to import a camera that can hook up to a PC via any kind of cable, and that isn't already cleared by the FCC, needs special forms/clearance...? Maybe?
posted by Menthol at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2010

already sent to Menthol, but for sake of MeFi completeness:

That's probably your sticking point, though I can't imagine that whoever made your camera has never exported to the US before. If you want to keep with it, you might ask the shipper about their FCC compliance. If they have no idea what you're talking about, that's your answer; without the FCC information Customs is most likely not going to let it in. But if they have the proper labeling and paperwork it might be worth a shot to stick with Customs. Or, if you ever get a hold of anyone at Customs, you might ask whether filing an FCC Form 740 might help matters any; I've filed a 740 for customers who have imported computers before with accessories/peripherals, but not just the peripherals themselves.
posted by alynnk at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2010

So I got an e-mail back from UPS. The claim that there are jammers in my package has vanished, but now they are saying there is a discrepancy in what the invoice for the package said versus what was inside the package, and that it's an "illegal" camera.

I called UPS to see if they knew what exactly about it was "illegal," but the woman became short with me and said it was not her call what was legal or illegal, it was Customs, but I was never going to get my camera.

I called Customs and finally got a real person, but they were unable to tell me anything specific about my case. They asked me about my shipment tracking and when I told them UPS had it listed as "NON-CUSTOMS GOVERNMENT AGENCY HOLD," they said it didn't sound like a Customs problem to him. I tried to explain that UPS has told me repeatedly that is IS a Customs hold and that it just happened to be listed that way, and he said that if it is a Customs hold that I should be getting something to that effect in the mail, which might take weeks.


I think I am going to give up. No one I talk to is at all interested in actually helping me, and they generally seem irritated that I am bothering them with my problems. I doubt at this point that there is really anything I can do to end with me getting this camera.
posted by Menthol at 7:20 AM on April 21, 2010

So, here's the end of this story:

UPS released the package to Customs and it was destroyed. I never received any notice or documentation from Customs about what exactly happened, although what I pieced together was that the package was simply improperly labeled by the shipper; there was nothing wrong with the contents of the shipment, just the paperwork.

I never got the package due to an error made by the seller, so I disputed the transaction with PayPal. PayPal asked me for a "counterfeit affidavit" from Customs, which made no sense. Tried to explain this to PayPal, but I kept getting a canned response back telling me that I had to submit this affidavit. I sent them all the copies of e-mails I exchanged with UPS and Customs I could, but PayPal's response was to rule in favor of the seller, despite the fact that I clearly never got my package (and that was verifiable through UPS tracking data). Roughly $230 in the garbage.

I will probably never buy internationally again, and I will avoid using PayPal in the future whenever possible.
posted by Menthol at 11:51 AM on June 25, 2010

Well, dammit.

I'm really disappointed, actually, this didn't reach a more favorable conclusion.

Depending on how long ago this played out, I wouldn't rule out receiving a notification from Customs about the destruction of your package. I have a shady customer who had problems with a shipment destroyed in February, and we only received the receipt / destruction of goods notification last month.

PayPal's canned response and their request for a counterfeit affidavit probably has something to do with the high number of black market goods that are imported: fake Coach bags and Nike shoes and the like; those are also destroyed under Customs supervision when discovered.
posted by alynnk at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2010

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