Customs Fraud


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Pressing financial problems may have caused you to get involved in a customs scam. But if you are indicted for federal customs fraud you face heavy penalties including fines, jail time and losing your importation privileges.

Customs Fraud Law

It is illegal to import goods into the US using phony, forged or fraudulent documents, to bring in contraband, or to try and avoid tariffs.

A number of federal laws are used to prosecute customs fraud. These include drug laws and laws protecting US commerce as well as regulations to keep food safe, products safe and the environment clean.

The Department of Justice is now using an obstruction of justice statute that is part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to prosecute customs fraud cases. Importers convicted under this statute can face much harsher penalties they would receive under other laws.

What You Need To Know About Customs Fraud

The government has been seeking ways to lessen customs fraud. The amount of goods being imported into the US has increased steadily over the last 20 years, and customs fraud can be hard to detect.

Customs authorities look for fraudulent paperwork but they also rely on information from whistle blowers empowered by the US False Claims Act.

Frequently used customs scams include:

  • Intentionally designating incorrect classifications for cargo to avoid or lessen tariffs
  • Intentionally supplying the wrong country of origin for clothing to avoid quotas
  • Intentionally undervaluing goods to avoid antidumping duties

Customs fraud investigations usually begin with a demand from customs officials for additional documentation to back up an importer’s claims that their cargo is what they contend it is.

If officials don’t receive convincing supporting paperwork, they can file a pre-penalty demand that alleges an importer is committing fraud. Officials may ask for full forfeiture of the imported items or an administrative summons that would prohibit the importer from bringing in the cargo until requirements are met.

Customs authorities can also re-classify an importer’s goods and assign them a tariff rate that matches the new classification. Importers have the right to challenge the tariff but they have to produce documentation that supports their challenge.

Importers who are found to have committed customs fraud can face federal penalties if the cargo was illegal and/or the fraud was severe. Penalties can include prison, fines, forfeiture and loss of importation privileges.

How A Lawyer Will Help

When you are up against a fraud charge, you will be facing inflexible laws and a determined US prosecutor. You will need an attorney who can help you determine all of your options and achieve the best outcome for your circumstances.

United States Code

Read more about federal criminal offenses in the United States Code.

Questions? Contact us today.

If you are charged with a federal crime, the consequences can be devastating. Fienman Defense will fight tenaciously to protect your constitutional rights. We will guide you through a court system that can be complex and intimidating, and provide you with the strongest possible defense.