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Shopping safely on the Internet at Christmas

The Customs authorities advise caution in online purchasing

While Austrian shopping streets are bustling, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, online shopping is also a significant factor during Advent. To many, the Internet seems to be a convenient alternative to the crowded shops – especially for purchasing gifts at the proverbial “last minute”. Unfortunately, an alarming aspect of Internet shopping is the increasing risk to consumers posed by counterfeit products.

The hazard of counterfeit products

Thus far in 2017, the Austrian Customs authorities have seized more than 96,000 counterfeit branded goods with an original value of almost EUR 10.5 million. More of this is expected during the Christmas season. Based on past experience, there is a significant increase in orders for the following groups of articles in the run-up to Christmas: clothing and watches (an increase of up to 100%), shoes (up to 50%), mobile phones and accessories (up to35%) and medications (up to 80%).

The purchase of counterfeit products is not a trivial offence

The Austrian Customs Service is therefore issuing an express warning against counterfeit products. The possible harms  from counterfeit products ranges from allergies to cheap toxic dyes in counterfeit textiles, to skin damage from counterfeit personal care products, to injuries from exploding mobile phones with counterfeit batteries, to injuries to children from counterfeit toys that do not meet the applicable safety requirements and quality standards. Not only are there considerable repercussions as far as the economy, fair competition and the labour market are concerned: the serious threats to the health of consumers must also be taken seriously.

Favour reputable companies

When you are shopping online, therefore, you should always bear in mind that a supposedly low-priced product may only be offered at such a low price because it is not an original product, but a cheap, low-quality imitation. Branded goods should only be purchased from well-known, established companies, which are as reputable online as in their “brick-and-mortar” stores.

Customs duties on online purchases outside of the EU

Apart from the dangers inherent in purchasing counterfeit products, the online dealer often fails to provide information regarding the Customs duties and other taxes that may be incurred, which in cases of doubt are imposed on online purchases in non-EU countries.

Customs duties and import sales taxes, and any excise duties on goods are incurred by the consumer as the end buyer, if the goods are purchased in third countries (i.e. in non-EU countries) and imported into Austria. No customs duties are applied within the EU.

If goods are purchased by Internet order from companies in the USA, Asia or South Africa (for example) and are imported into Austria and if the value of the goods is over EUR 22, the goods are subject to import sales tax. In addition, customs duties must be paid if the value of the goods is EUR 150 or more. The amount of customs duties is based on the goods themselves, their value and the country of origin. The Austrian postal service ( die Post ) reports consignments of goods and pays the levies, which it collects upon delivery, including a fee charged for this service by the postal service (this fee is not a tax ).

With online purchases outside the EU, the applicable customs provisions should be observed, but it should also be noted that, if consignments contain pirated goods (goods that infringe intellectual property rights), the Customs authorities must take appropriate action under the EC Product Piracy Regulation. This can result in the initiation of proceedings by the rightsholder or – if all the parties consent – the destruction of the pirated goods.

Additional information regarding product piracy, shopping on the Internet and the Austrian Customs Service (in German)