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The risky business of shopping


08:11, December 24, 2012

It’s the holiday season again. For many, the best way to celebrate is with a shopping spree. But ambitious consumers are not satisfied with buying what’s on the domestic shelves. They’re now reaching out to more alluring overseas markets, but with more choice, there’s also more risk.

Shopping can lift the spirits, especially now that consumer choice is almost unlimited. No matter how far away the goods you want are, with the help of purchasing agents, anything your heart desires can be delivered right to your front door.

"I use purchasing agents to buy from overseas markets because they can get hold of many new designer products before they appear in the domestic market."

"Many people I know buy overseas luxury goods, cosmetics and designer bags through purchasing agents."

It’s estimated that the sales volume of overseas purchasing through agents will reach 48 billion yuan in 2012. That’s a four fold increase compared to just three years ago. As businesses grow, many professional agent companies and even individuals have made a fortune. However, for some others, the lack of legal awareness has brought only trouble. One prominent case in September saw a former flight attendant sentenced to 11 years in prison, for bringing duty-free cosmetics from South Korea through customs without declaring them.

Jia Jia, Attorney Beijing Shanbang Law Firm, said, "Under criminal law, people are liable to be sentenced to 10 or more years in prision if the amount of tax evaded on smuggled goods reaches 50 thousand yuan. In her case, she evaded paying tax of more than 1 million yuan. Many people now still don’t understand that if you bring back overseas goods to sell you have to pay customs tax, otherwise it’s smuggling."

But in reality, many individual agents in China claim their overseas purchases are personal belongings, when in fact they intend to sell them online. They take the risk that they won’t be spotted by customs checks because the volume of smuggled items is small. However, when added up, the taxation evaded can be significant. According to statistics, billions of yuan are lost each year due to such illegal activities.

Jia Jia, said, "On the other hand, consumers are also at risk when they buy through unverified agents. In many cases they would experience difficulties returning goods if there are any quality or counterfeit issues."

When buying overseas products, Jia recommends that customers choose a professional purchasing agent that has gone through all the legal checks rather than small online concerns.


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