Dubious third parties hold goods ‘hostage’

Dubious third parties hold goods ‘hostage’

Q: I sell products on Amazon and recently purchased some products from two companies in China. I arranged for a Chinese freight forwarder, United Shipping Pro, to ship them to Los Angeles.

In my case, United Shipping Pro took my payment and then apparently never paid the carrier it hired to move my goods with that money. I’ve talked to several other sellers and they say this is what happened to them and now to our company.

The price it quotes the customers is much lower than the price it agrees with the carriers. After the shipment arrives in the US, the carrier is stuck with the cargo and never receives payment from United Shipping Pro. The carrier, in turn, holds the shipment hostage from the customer until the customer agrees to pay the full amount the carrier claims it’s owed. It’s up to the customer to pay a second time to the carrier, for a much higher amount than it contracted for with United Shipping Pro, if it ever wants to see [its] cargo.

The carrier in this case is another Chinese company, Shenzhen Topway International. It’s being unreasonable and not at all helpful. Even though United Shipping Pro is the one it should be pursuing for payment, it’s pursuing me, presumably because it’s easier since they can hold my inventory — worth thousands of dollars — hostage. Even though I’ve said I’d pay what I agreed to pay United Shipping Pro, the carrier is adamant that I pay it what it claims it agreed to with United Shipping Pro, plus storage costs (my goods have been held in its Los Angeles warehouse for weeks).

Can you please advise me what to do or [who] to turn to in this situation? Additional concerns are lost sales and/or what Topway might do to my inventory.


A: Ugly situation you have there.

I usually don’t identify shippers or carriers in this column (and have withheld your company’s name), but in this instance I’m making an exception because of the nature of the situation. I repeatedly contacted United Shipping Pro with your complaint through its website, but it failed to respond. I’d also have contacted Shenzhen Topway, but its site doesn’t allow me to do so and lists offices only in China and Korea. (The internet also offers an unofficial “scam alert” about Topway, claiming it’s merely an unsupported storefront.)

What it boils down to is that you seem to have got yourself in a pickle by relying on suppliers without properly checking them out ahead of time. I’m not sure whether you’re being victimized by one or both of these companies (perhaps operating in concert), but it’s for pretty sure that somebody’s trying to take you for a ride.

First, are your goods even in the US? For that to happen, somebody — presumably Topway — would have had to pay a physical ocean carrier to move them, and what I’ve learned makes me doubt that actually happened. If you pay Topway, you still might never see your stuff.

If the goods are truly here, where, precisely, are they? What’s the name and address of the warehouse where they’re supposedly being held? You’re entitled to that information and should demand it. If anybody responds (which I question), you should go or have somebody you trust do so to verify that your goods are really there and are in good condition. If your inquiries are stonewalled, it’s a pretty good indication that the whole exercise is futile.

I also advise contacting the sellers in China from whom you bought the stuff, to see whether it was picked up at all. (I presume you at least know the sellers and have reason to believe what they tell you; if not, you may be in even deeper doo-doo than you’ve indicated.) If it’s still there, you may be able to find more reliable shipping.

In sum, you’ve got where you are by being too trusting of folks you don’t know. Don’t compound this error by blindly believing the garbage they’re now spouting, and ponying up additional cash for what may turn out to be phantom cargo.

By the way, the fact that somebody may have a web presence doesn’t legitimize it as a company with whom you may reliably do business. Websites are pretty cheap and are verified by no one.

On the whole, I’m afraid you’ll probably have to write this whole transaction off and start fresh, if you can ever locate your goods at all.

Consultant, author, and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843 559 1277; email, BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010.