Preventing Importer Identity Theft

Preventing Importer Identity TheftUnsuspecting importers are being victimized by people who have discovered how simple it can be to assume a legitimate importer or corporation’s identity. You’ve probably heard of individual identity theft, which can be harmful to an individual. A case of corporate identity fraud can handicap an otherwise law-abiding company. It can turn their world upside down and take months or even years to untangle the mess.

The way the theft usually works, is the bad guys secure the company’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Internal Revenue Service number. A vicious person who gets a hold of this number can simply have a customs broker perform a bond query. This will give them the other necessary information to make entry. Simply having the EIN number and a company’s bond information, can allow the bad guys can prepare a fake Power of Attorney. Then, they can retain a customs broker.

The thief then presents the customs broker with a set of documents covering one or more consignments of counterfeit goods. If he pays the customs broker for their fees and the duties, this scheme could continue unchecked for months. Usually, however, they disappear with the goods following release and they don’t pay the broker or the duties. Thankfully, this limits the damage done. It is still a very difficult thing for the importer to deal with. The default on the surety bond has to be looked into, and all of the fake entries must be identified and reported to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The best way to protect yourself is to the greatest extent possible guard and protect your corporate information. All companies should regularly review their entry data with Customs and Border Protection. You can do this by either:

  • Accessing the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE)
  • Making a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) for your company’s Importer Trade Activity (ITRAC) data.

Your volume will determine the necessity of doing this, but at a minimum it should be done annually. You’ll need to establish an ACE Portal account for your company with the Customs and Border Protection in order to view your ACE data. The process is free. For more information, you can log onto www.cbp.gov.

When reviewing this report, you should look for activity in unusual ports of entry, unusual broker filer codes, or the importation of suspect commodities. It is also important to pay close attention to all CBP correspondence and communication, and all dates and deadlines imposed.

Investigate immediately any Request for Information (CF-28) or Notice of Action (CF-29) for a suspicious shipment, if received. If necessary, discuss it with Customs and Border Protection.

Another way you can monitor your activity with Customs and Border Protection is through your surety company. Sureties have comprehensive reporting programs. These reports tell them and their clients when something suspicious appears in their activity report.

Corporate identity theft is increasing. It is rapidly becoming a problem for importers, Customs and Border Protection, and customs brokers. The best way to keep it from happening is guard your information, closely scrutinize your customs entry activity on a regular basis, and take quick action if anomalies are found.


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