Customs Seizures a Protection for Small Business

Customs seizure apparel

“I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.” That phrase says it all. Or does it?

That line is an old and very tired joke. Those of us in the powersports business have seen the heavy hand of government at all levels. Local governments that find infractions in the way we do business, dispose of our garbage, annoy the neighbors or hang our signs. State governments who make us crazy with ever changing DMV laws, tightening restrictions on the use of state land, the wearing of helmets and other restrictions we rail against.

Of course, the Federal government keeps looking over our shoulders and threatening both us and the state in which we live, by using their power to withhold the funds needed road repair and upgrading.

So, it seems that whatever these authorities do it’s bad for us. It complicates our lives, creates more paperwork for our business, makes us spend more hours on complying with their demands than we do serving our customers.

When something the government does actually helps us, count on it not hitting the headlines or the front page of the newspapers.

We’ve all heard of the drug seizures as a part of homeland security. We’ve seen the news stories about methamphetamine lab busts.

But has anyone heard about seizures of inferior Chinese scooters, ATVs, or motorcycles? I sure didn’t until I received an email with a link to a web site. The site: http://www.treas.gov/auctions/. If you’ve got the time you might want to check it out.

This link contains information about seized property and auctions by same by the Federal government. Seizures can be for containers or individual items.

Further searching the Internet I discovered 15 other sites where seized motorcycles, automobiles, ATVs and scooters are put up for auction. Just in case you think you might want to bid, there’s a caveat that reads “for export only,” as part of the description of the acceptance of ultimate bid.

This condition applied to most of the Chinese scooters. What happens if the units are not purchased? “They are destroyed,” a Customs agent told me.

What we have is a (rare?) case of our government really protecting our interests. Obviously, counterfeit units would have no liability insurance attached and perhaps be of such inferior quality that the end user might find him/her self in a personal injury accident … or worse. If they were, who would they go after? They would have few options other than the powersports dealer who sold them the unit. Who in turn would the dealer be able to hold responsible? No one!

What else has the Customs department done to protect us? They check the labeling on imported vehicles that are to be sold for use on our streets and highways. Working with the DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) and the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), customs assumes the responsibility to reject any items, which claim to comply with the requirements of these agencies but don’t.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with U.S. Customs myself. Some years ago when I was the sole and registered U.S. importer of Hein Gericke leather apparel, I received a call from Customs stating that a container of leathers had arrived at the port of Long Beach, California and that my company was not listed as the destined receiver. Since I had registered with Customs as the exclusive importer and distributor I was curious and asked to whom the shipment was to be sent. They told me. I knew the “scuz bucket” who was attempting to bring in the fake Hein Gericke leathers.

I asked the Customs agent what I could do. “Get a notarized letter to me authorizing me to return the container to China. You will have to pay for the return shipping. Or — you could authorize Customs to razor slash each piece.” I chose the latter, had the letter typed up and notarized and sent it by taxi to the Customs official.

Needless to say I received a call from the “scuz bucket.” He screamed and cried about my destroying over $40,000 worth of leather jacket items. My response? “Next time I destroy them and then take you to court. This is a shot across your bow. Now hang up.” That was the last I heard from him. I did see him at a few trade shows but noticed that as soon as he saw me he scurried to another aisle.

Yeah, Customs can be a pain. Yeah, most government agencies can be painful to deal with. When all is said and done, however, the vast majority of them are following the law created to protect both you and the end customer from counterfeit or dangerous products, be they motorcycles, scooters, ATVs or leathers.

Now, that’s the first article I’ve ever written that compliments (sort of) a governmental agency. I must be getting mellow in my old age.

Editor’s note:  read more about how to protect your intellectual property through working with U.S. Customs.  Also, this graphic shows that the largest group of counterfeit items are apparel.

Image of Customs agent seizing counterfeit items:  U.S. Customs news release

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John Wyckoff




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