US Customs Seizure of My Bals - sharing my experience (L-O-N-G STORY!!)

missucc

O.G.
Feb 2, 2008
181
1
41
I have posted over in the eBay forum a long time ago so I thought I would give you all an update. It has been a very stressful fight dealing against not only the US Customs, but also Balenciaga's trademark attorney in the US. Things finally resolved in my favor, I still suffered slight financial loss but I am very thankful of Bal HQ's kind help which was the only reason why US Customs agreed to release my bags.

Please pardon the long story, but I hope by sharing this experience here no one would have to go through the same crap I did with buying/selling/trading Bals across borders. I read another tpf'er went through quite a nightmare dealing with LV for similar issues. I've also just read another thread involving 2 Tory Burch's being "seized" by US Customs - I guess they are really taking anti-counterfeiting seriously these days. While I think this is a good thing, it would also be inevitable that some authentic (especially pre-owned) bags mistakenly get "caught" as fakes.



So here is what happened:
  • I sent 4 used Bals from Canada to the US through UPS. The price was negotiated as a lump sum total to be $2800, but instead of declaring the value as such, I (being in a rush) inadvertently declared $2200 on the custom form.
  • A few days later UPS informs me the parcel was held by US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) for authenticity verification. Then a few more days later they told me the shipment was seized because all 4 bags were deemed counterfeits.
  • I corresponded with US Customs Officers to figure out how they came to such conclusion. One told me they follow a strict verification protocol, and that a Bal rep DID verify that they were counterfeits (though her tone didn't sound like she was very sure). Then I consulted another officer on what they need from me in order to release my bags. I was told I need to submit a petition with 10 days with proof of authenticity. Here's the fun part, they would not tell me what they would accept as PROOF beside original store receipt. I asked a number of times whether or not a letter from Carol Diva or My Poupette would suffice - the officer simple IGNORED the question.
  • I must note that I live in Canada, there is no Bal boutique here so majority of my collection are finds from eBay or Bon. hence providing original store receipts is out of the question. Also, whatever paper cards I had for the bags were SHIPPED WITH THE BAGS.
  • So I put together a petition outlining the features (ie hardware, leather/metal tag etc) that make my bags authentic. I decided not to use paid authentication service (did I mention the buyer basically said she will not deal with US Customs, despite the fact that I said I would put together all the paper work, all she has to do is help inquire what's needed from her side of the border just for efficiency sake? Not only that, the buyer, while agreeing that she is fully aware that my bags are authentic, files a dispute with PP within days of the seizure so at this point my PP account was frozen so I had no way of paying Carol Diva for her service)
  • After dropping approx. $100 into having a waiver form notorized (required by US Customs indicating that I will not sue them upon choosing to submit a petition as the course of action) then mailing in all the documents through overnight express, US Customs responded to tell me they won't release my bags because they were fake, and once again, with no details given as to what makes them fake.
  • I emailed the officer again to ask what protocol they followed and how they came to the conclusion that my bags were fake. She told me to contact Bal's trademark attorney (R. Elings) in NY with Greenberg & Traurig.
  • I have attempted to get in touch with Ms. Elings even as I was writing up the petition. I sent email after email, all courteously worded, only to receive no response from her. After being directed by the customs officer to get in touch with her, I dialed her number and send more emails and finally heard back from her.
  • After a 10 minute conversation with Ms. Elings and sending her pics of my bags, she told me she will hand the case off to a contractor (Vaudra Ltd.) because it is more cost efficient for the client (Balenciaga). The same day, I got an email from the Vaudra rep saying that she will contact US Customs and look into the authenticity of my bags. I responded to her email and offered to send her all the paperwork if necessary, but she never responded.
  • 2 weeks later, I still have not heard back from Vaudra or Greenberg & Traurig. During this time I have sent a number of emails, politely asking for updates, if any, and each time I offered to provide any info that they may need to push things ahead. Still no response from either party.
  • Finally I emailed Vaudra again, and cc'd Greenberg, to ask if there has been any update. Vaudra replied to tell me she has not been able to get in touch with US Customs and asked me for the contact info of the officer in charge of this case. :shrugs:
  • I emailed back right away with the contact info of the officer I have been in correspondence with. WITHIN 2 HOURS (that tells you if she's actually inspected the actual bags in person), Vaudra emails me back and basically said that they have confirmed my bags to be counterfeits, asking me not to bother with submitting further appeal. She also indicated she won't release details as to what features indicated to them that my bags were fake, but that they do follow a striction authentication protocol. (I agree with and fully respect this policy, because counterfeiters can easily improve their products if they knew what features they need to fix).
  • I emailed Vaudra and Greenberg to inquire whether or not they have actually re-inspect the bags (noting the 2 hour turnaround in results), and politely asking for a response even if they needed some more time to look into the issue. But these lovely, professional ladies were never heard from again!
  • At this point, I was very PO'd. I know my bags are NOT fake, and not having original store receipts should not make them fake. And just because I have been dealing with ill-trained authentication "professionals" shouldn't make them fake either. Well I have been going through some serious emotional issues so I figure I can't sleep anyways, may as well call Balenciaga HQ in Paris in early a.m. I got nothing to lose anyways, since I was pretty much told I won't get my Bals back. But even so I wanted to proof my bags are authentic - just for the sake of it!
  • So I called Bal customer service at 3 a.m. my time. Communication was somewhat awkward since I don't speak French, but they understood it was about authenticity issues and I was directed Isabelle who looks after those things.
  • I send Isabelle photos of my Bals, and within the same day, she responded to tell me what she felt the issues were (without disclosing too much details of course). She said my bags didn't have the long tassels and that the mirrors weren't attached to the bags.:wtf: Seriously??? Thats it????? But...but...but...do they not realize my bags are NOT new from the boutique so of course they are not packaged like they once were. (This tells you how specific the authentication protocols are - pre-owned bags can easily get caught as fakes by mistake!)
  • I pointed this out to Isabelle and she agreed she would look into the authenticity of my bags further. After a week or so I did bug her again for updates (at this point I really hated chasing after people for updates and was starting to think that it is APPROPRIATE business etiquette to ignore people's inquiries). Isabelle did respond the same day saying they are in correspondence with US Customs and that everything is under control!!
  • Finally, I GOT A LETTER IN THE MAIL FROM THE US CUSTOMS SAYING THEY WILL GIVE ME MY BAGS BACK!!!! I made arrangements for UPS to pick up the bags and had them sent back to me.
  • So my bags finally came back to me (about 4 months after I first shipped them). But guess what? 3 dust bags went missing! After several more email exchanges, the US CBP officer informed me they have found the dust bags and that they would be mailed back to me. Well, it has been 2 weeks now and still nothing came in through the mail!
 

missucc

O.G.
Feb 2, 2008
181
1
41
My comments to conclude:

US CBP – I really don't know what to say about them besides PITA

Bal (contracted) US trademark reps – I sure hope this is not where all that extra $ from price increases are going. I have all the respect for what they do for anti-counterfeiting, but they could really use a course on professional attitude and business etiquette. If you ever come across the same issues I did, I would suggest contacting them anyways, but just don't count on receiving much assistance from these people.

Bal HQ – LOVE! I totally didn’t expect any assistance from Bal directly since the bags in question weren’t purchased from a boutique. This company gets my total respect and I wouldn't hesitate to spend more $ on Bals.
 

hedy devine

Member
May 13, 2009
511
0
Fascinating story - this makes me very hesitant to order from, or ship to, another country. I'm very sorry for the stressful, drawn-out process, missucc, but I'm happy to hear your bags were finally returned (albeit without the dust bags).
 

besabonita

Ziva & Tony
Sep 3, 2009
4,252
0
Where it rains and rains...
Wow! I remember reading your posts in the ebay forum and wondered about the outcome. I am so sorry that you had to go through all of the stress and frustration of this experience, it sounds awful.

I am happy you finally got your Bal's back, and hope you get your missing dust bags.

Through any of this did customs or anyone else say what you could have done differently to avoid this insane hassle? You were very descriptive, and I can see how ignorant customs was...anything that could help other in the future to avoid this nightmare?
 

Susan Lee

Double Trouble
O.G.
Dec 1, 2006
5,898
6
California
^^I'd love to know the same thing! What can be done to prevent this for you (or anyone else) in the future?

What an ordeal! Glad you got your bags back tho. I would have gone nutty!!!
 

Jayne1

Working Canvas
O.G.
Aug 2, 2006
28,597
7,717
Toronto
Do you think the fact that you sent four items made them suspicious? Because otherwise I can't see why they would even take notice.
 

northerndancer

What, me worry?
O.G.
Dec 30, 2007
5,070
684
The Cool Cool North
OMG. I certainly remember this story from the ebay forum. It is always nice to hear back and find out how things turned out. What a stressful situation for you. Glad you have your Bals back.

Just an FYI, both the OP and the Tory Burch seller used couriers (UPS and Fedex) respectively. For whatever reason, international shipments often do not go as smoothly with the couriers as they do with the post office. (and it is usually a lot more expensive with the couriers).
 

CeeJay

A BAL-enced Life!
O.G.
Dec 6, 2005
14,028
17,901
A Yank in SoCAL
Holy smokes ... this is SCARY!!! I can speak from experience that the Dogane/Dogana (France/Italian) folks DO take the counterfeiting VERY seriously .. I had to show proof of purchase before being allowed to board as well as claim the VAT before leaving the EU!!

However, from a seller's perspective, this makes me totally re-think shipping stuff overseas! I have oftentimes used a consignor (RDC, AFF) instead of listing the bags myself .. yeah, you get more $$$ doing it yourself, but it might just be easier (and less stressful) to let them do it! :-O
 

Jayne1

Working Canvas
O.G.
Aug 2, 2006
28,597
7,717
Toronto
OMG. I certainly remember this story from the ebay forum. It is always nice to hear back and find out how things turned out. What a stressful situation for you. Glad you have your Bals back.

Just an FYI, both the OP and the Tory Burch seller used couriers (UPS and Fedex) respectively. For whatever reason, international shipments often do not go as smoothly with the couriers as they do with the post office. (and it is usually a lot more expensive with the couriers).
You'd think it would be the other way around!
 

justpeachy4397

Melissa
O.G.
Mar 21, 2010
1,555
29
TX
Wow, i'm so sorry to hear about this. Thanks for sharing, though, because like many others I have considered shipping overseas but was always afraid to do it... and your experience confirms my fears! I'm glad you finally got your bags back in the long run.
 

Susan Lee

Double Trouble
O.G.
Dec 1, 2006
5,898
6
California
Do you think the fact that you sent four items made them suspicious? Because otherwise I can't see why they would even take notice.
IMHO, now that I think about it, I think its a combo of 4 items being sent in the same box, her lower declaration and the fact she sent it UPS-They are really strict about declarations.

ITA with the post office being much easier!! :tup:
 

travelbliss

~O.G. LV enthusiast depuis 1987~
O.G.
Sep 25, 2006
7,453
3,253
VuittonVille
What an ordeal. I'm sure it was both stressful and nerve-wracking with all the waiting and wondering. I'm happy to hear you finally got the bags back, but this would turn me off to selling any of my bags in the future. Thanks for sharing your experience.
 

missucc

O.G.
Feb 2, 2008
181
1
41
Through any of this did customs or anyone else say what you could have done differently to avoid this insane hassle? You were very descriptive, and I can see how ignorant customs was...anything that could help other in the future to avoid this nightmare?
^^I'd love to know the same thing! What can be done to prevent this for you (or anyone else) in the future?
Nope, I was told of nothing besides that my bags are not authentic and that the only thing to proof authenticity is store receipts.

I ditto northerndancer, from experience this seems to happen more with couriers - I have never encountered this with Canada Post.

Do you think the fact that you sent four items made them suspicious? Because otherwise I can't see why they would even take notice.
I am not sure. I didn't send them as gift or anything. One thing I forgot to mention is that CBP estimated my 4 Bals were worth $7700. They are all RH's, so even if they were all brand new and current season (which they are not) their combined value would only be around $6K.

So I must say more training is definitely needed by the customs officers. (the tPf'er with the 2 Tory Burch bags was asked to pay customs in an amount more than what her bags are worth combined).

Just an FYI, both the OP and the Tory Burch seller used couriers (UPS and Fedex) respectively. For whatever reason, international shipments often do not go as smoothly with the couriers as they do with the post office. (and it is usually a lot more expensive with the couriers).
In the future I will avoid couriers like a plague. And for other Canadian gals that are not aware, these couriers also charge an enormous handling fee when you receive (through couriers) something from abroad that is assessed customs & duties. The fee is variable depending on the value but could almost be as high as what you pay for customs & duties (i.e doubling your final bill). Canada Post, on the other hand, charges $5 flat. With UPS, this handling fee is only applicable for receiving through ground (i.e. if you must use UPS go with Air, you end up paying just as much but at least you get your item much faster).

However, from a seller's perspective, this makes me totally re-think shipping stuff overseas! I have oftentimes used a consignor (RDC, AFF) instead of listing the bags myself .. yeah, you get more $$$ doing it yourself, but it might just be easier (and less stressful) to let them do it! :-O
I may just have to consider this option, although I don't know if there are any reputable consignment services in Canada. I know Bags&Passion (?) is out of Canada but they seem to list bags on Bonanza at ridiculously high prices, I wonder if they actually sell anything??
 

Jayne1

Working Canvas
O.G.
Aug 2, 2006
28,597
7,717
Toronto
I am not sure. I didn't send them as gift or anything. One thing I forgot to mention is that CBP estimated my 4 Bals were worth $7700. They are all RH's, so even if they were all brand new and current season (which they are not) their combined value would only be around $6K.

So I must say more training is definitely needed by the customs officers. (the tPf'er with the 2 Tory Burch bags was asked to pay customs in an amount more than what her bags are worth combined).



In the future I will avoid couriers like a plague. And for other Canadian gals that are not aware, these couriers also charge an enormous handling fee when you receive (through couriers) something from abroad that is assessed customs & duties. The fee is variable depending on the value but could almost be as high as what you pay for customs & duties (i.e doubling your final bill). Canada Post, on the other hand, charges $5 flat. With UPS, this handling fee is only applicable for receiving through ground (i.e. if you must use UPS go with Air, you end up paying just as much but at least you get your item much faster).
Before I came to TPF and before my eyes were opened to all the fabulous bags, stores and on-line sites, I thought selling 4 bags at once was odd. I can see Customs not being aware of the TPF obsession and thinking 4 bags was suspect. As in counterfeit suspect.

Canada Post charges $5.00 if the item is under $100 and I think it goes up to $7-$8 if the item is valued over $100.00 Still really good!

Anyway, I'll keep in mind everything you warned us about. Funny, I always think we're fine as long as we're honest. I'm putting you in this honest category since you listed authentic bags at a reasonable value, if just a little off.