THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Brown study: Cycling through UPS payment rules

When Tom Rose walked into the UPS Customer Center one day last June, all he expected to do was pay a cash on delivery, or C.O.D., charge and collect a shipment of vintage motorcycle parts. By the time he walked out, however−or, more precisely, by the time he stormed out, pursued by a UPS employee threatening to call the police−his expectations had vaporized. 

Rose's saga began on June 20 when he came home to a notice saying UPS had tried to deliver a package and would try again. The notice also said Rose would have to pay $27.25. He was puzzled, because he thought shipping had been included in what he paid the seller, and called UPS customer service to ask about the charge. 

Rose says he never got an answer. That wasn't his only reason for calling, though; he mainly wanted to be sure UPS didn't put the package back on the truck for redelivery, because the parts are fragile. Instead, he arranged to pick the package up at the Customer Center just off Route 250 East near Keswick. He says he was told to bring a money order. 

Rose went to the Customer Center on June 30, handed over his claim check and a money order for $27.25, and was surprised to learn that the cost had gone up by $2. Rose protested that he'd brought a money order for the amount on the notice, but the manager, when called over by the employee, insisted he owed another $2. 

Rose offered cash, which was refused. The manager began to tell him where he could get a $2 money order, but Rose−stunned by the inconvenience−says he cut him off, tossed $2 on the counter next to the money order, grabbed his package, and stormed out with the manager in his wake. Rose claims the manager wrote down his license number and said he would call the police. On that happy note, Rose drove away. 

He never heard from the police, however, and assumed the matter was closed−until, on August 10, he got a bill from UPS for $29.95. Rose emailed the seller, who replied that he had definitely prepaid and attached PDF files of the form he had filled out at the UPS store in Ottawa, Ontario, and the computerized form the store had printed out when he heard from Rose and went in to inquire. The form detailed the shipment and confirmed that it had been prepaid. 

In his email to Rose, the seller said the UPS employee had suggested that the charges might have been for customs. Since that hadn't been mentioned when he'd called UPS on June 20 and asked what the charges were for, the idea apparently got lost in the shuffle. 

Rose hadn't done anything about the mystery bill when he ran into me at the coffee machine in Ruffner Hall at UVA, where we both work, and told me his tale. I called UPS spokesperson Ronna Branch, who spoke to the Customer Center manager. In the end, Branch said, the manager hadn't called the police. After Rose drove off, the manager had found the $2 (on the floor, he claims) and the money order, discussed the situation with the loss-prevention officer, and decided to let it go. In the heat of the moment, however, he apparently forgot to enter the payment in the system. 

It took a lot of prodding on my part, but Branch and her boss, Norman Black, finally unearthed what had happened: The charges were indeed for customs, the driver had recorded the wrong amount, and the Customer Center employees had refused to depart from the "money-order-only" rule for payment−even though, Black admits, that would have been a wise move. 

In the end, Black arranged for Rose to get an apology and a refund. 

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, Charlottesville 22902. 

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1 comment

Unfortunately those that buy internationally do not understand the custom rules. The seller in this case had failed to inform the buyer of all the particulars. To compound the problem the center manager of the UPS Counter did not use common sense in handling the customer relation issues. In this case it seems that the customer did not dispute the custom's bill. As being a professional in the pack and ship industry many buyers and sellers do not understand the brokerage fees and custom duties on imports. Canada is a foreign country with customs rules, with or without NAFTA. I hope that what people come away on this article is not just the information that a customer satisfaction issue was created but that both buyer and seller need to understand the DOT and Tarriff regulations that apply to shipping. The issues with homeland security is becoming more and more of an issue. The consumer faces the limitation of easy access to shipping and the carriers are going to have to adjust accordingly along with the carriers themselves.