CBP launches online system to report trade violations

Companies or whistleblowers within companies can use e-Allegations to file claims.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced on June 17 that it deployed an online system the public can use to report trade violations anonymously.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The public can use e-Allegations to report suspected trade violations by filling out a form on the agency's Web site. Examples of violations include misclassification or undervaluing merchandise, incorrect country-of-origin identifications, or violations of health and safety regulations or intellectual property rights. An example of a violation would be a company importing substandard steel and claiming it is a higher grade, creating a potential safety issue, according to CBP's Web site.

Don Yando, executive director of commercial targeting and enforcement for the bureau's Office of International Trade, called e-Allegations "just a simple online system that will let [the public] confidentially report any violation of trade laws."

The system complements a hot line CBP operates for the same purpose and is not intended to collect tips on security issues such as terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

Yando said that since the system went live, the bureau has received tips on violations that include misclassification of merchandise so a company pays a cheaper duty, undervaluing shipments, counterfeit merchandise and false labeling. "Exactly what the system was designed for," he said.

Reports of violations can come from companies that have knowledge that their competitors are violating trade laws or from whistleblowers within companies who know their employer is declaring a lower value for goods to avoid paying higher duties.

Yando said he was not concerned that e-Allegations could lead to people filing false reports. "We're closely monitoring that," he said. "If we start getting a lot of frivolous reports, we'll talk to legal folks and see what actions we can take at that time."

Michael Tomenga, counsel with Neville Peterson, a law firm specializing in domestic and international trade regulations, said the chances of false reports being filed was low. The agency "could well get crackpot referrals, but presently people can contact Customs and try to report something. [But] it just doesn't happen," he said. "For whatever reason, Customs tends to be off the radar screen of crackpots. One would only think about the agency if you have some experience with international trade issues."

According to CBP's Web site, users may remain anonymous when submitting an e-Allegation. Informants can identify themselves in the online form, but they are not required to do so. But if informers want to submit evidence, such as a photo or document, they must provide an e-mail address and receive an e-Allegation case number to place on the evidence and an address where they should send it.

But if informants choose to remain anonymous, they could miss out on the chance to collect a reward. Those who file allegations may be entitled to a reward of up to 25 percent of what CBP recovers, up to $250,000, if the information is significant and detailed enough. But informants must identify themselves to receive the reward.