UPS – an import charges scam, lack of professionalism or just carelessness?

With this article I’m fulfilling my promise to UPS to make the story public in response to them going blank on the matter. This article is not to blame someone particularly, but rather to describe the situation, ask questions that were left unanswered by UPS and make it available for a wider audience.

The situation took place in April 2021 and I gave UPS all the time to react, so “we’re working on it, give us more time” excuse would be invalid here.

Here is what happened. In the beginning of 2021 I made an online purchase in a non-EU online store. The order had to be delivered by UPS. I was monitoring the reference number closely as I knew that I had to pay the EU import charge when it arrives to Ireland. When I saw the item staying in the Dublin dispatch for a few days I reached out to UPS support on Twitter asking what’s the story with it (no one reached out to me – the item was just sitting there).

After a few days of silence, I gave them a call. The lady on the phone was a bit puzzled why it was “held” and informed me that it will be delivered shortly. Which was quite strange considering the basic nature of the parcel contents.

On the 16th of April the doorbell finally rang. One thing that struck me right there – it wasn’t a UPS van, I know the delivery driver in our area and he’s definitely driving a branded brown van and is wearing UPS uniform. Outside my door, however, was a random van on UK plates and a guy dressed like an electrician or something. No badge, no scanner or anything. But he had my parcel, which has driven the suspicion away.

– Do you want the bad news? – said the guy walking towards me with a friendly smile. – there is a 60 quid import charge on it!

The sticker on the package was saying “61.53 EUR”:

That didn’t sound right at all. Import charge in the Republic of Ireland is 23% of the item price. The attached original invoice was for $94.79. Even if we do the rough math right there rounding 94.79 to 100: 23% from $100 would be $23. There is no way it would be 61.53 EUR.

-Oh, it’s a rip-off, some people are being charged hundreds! But you can dispute it later, I’ll give you the phone number. – went the friendly chap.

Now, this is where psychology kicks in – I still wanted my parcel! So, I decided to pay that and then dispute it with UPS. Little did I know that they will simply ignore my every request. But let’s follow the story further.

After I agreed to pay the charge and brought my card the guy didn’t pull out a terminal as I was expecting, but called someone on the phone.

-Is he going to pay it? – asked a female voice <- this actually sounded very suspicious.

-Yes, I have the card details here.

The guy gave my card details to the operator on the other end, handed me the parcel and left after saying:

-They will send you the invoice over the email.

None of this sounded right. The invoice should be already with the courier. He should had scanned the parcel too. But he just gave it to me. A random guy on a random UK van.

However, the fact that he had the parcel and the transaction was actually showing up as “UPS” in my online banking app made me let it all slide. Then I had some concerns when I didn’t receive an invoice for a few days. I reached out to support on Twitter and the below attachment finally arrived.

This is what they sent me via email. Pay attention, there is the tracking number instead of the invoice number shown below. Not sure how UPS handles this, any other company would have tracking and invoice numbers separate, but OK.

Now the fun part begins when I tried to at least reach out to anyone in UPS trying to get the breakdown of charges and a refund. Support via Twitter told me that this was escalated, but it apparently went nowhere.

The phone number that the delivery guy provided was routing to UPS customer support, who in turn was routing me to their billing department which was unreachable.

After about 5 calls that went nowhere due to hitting the automated “you’re calling us out of our working hours” message in the middle of a working day I had some luck. A lady on the other end informed me that she personally cannot help with breakdown of charges, however, she gave me an email of someone in the brokerage department who definitely would be able to help. And suggested to ignore their “out of office” reply – this was strange too, but OK. A few emails to that person went unanswered. I added the Ireland brokerage main email address to the thread and still got no reply.

That started feeling dodgy. So, I reached out to the UPS customer support via Twitter again (pay attention to the dates shown below) to no avail. UPS was literally ignoring any inquiries regarding this clearly wrong transaction.

Meanwhile, I have reached out to the Revenue Commissioners of Ireland asking for clarifications on the import charges to make sure I’m not mixing anything up. They have confirmed that my view on this was correct – import charge should had been %23.

UPS kept ignoring any requests as shown in the chat history above, so I promised them to share the story. Which I’m doing right now.

Anyway. This left quite a few questions unanswered. What this whole situation actually is?

Does it look like some sort of an internal fraud – overcharging people more than twice using the psychological hook “I still need my parcel!” and keeping the difference? Hope not.

Was it a simple mistake by someone in the billing department and they didn’t want to fix it hoping that I will just go away if they keep ignoring me long enough? That would be a weird way of doing business.

Or was this not looked into simply because UPS customer support escalations process is broken?

What is it all about?…

I don’t have any answers to date. I certainly have switched to their competitor for all personal and business parcel services meanwhile. And by the way import taxes they collect every time are exactly 23% – no problem there.

Let’s see if this article will make circles and someone ranked high enough in the UPS will read and give it some attention, so I have at least the questions answered (the reference number is on the photos). Not hoping to get the refund for the overcharge. Obviously, I won’t be conducting any business with UPS from now on – personal or commercial. But I still hope that they will do something about it, so their existing customers don’t experience the same problem in the future.

If you have encountered something similar with UPS, feel free to comment and share the story.

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