I have been seeing this kind of stuff more and more from private carriers such as DHL, UPS and FedEx. These companies use 3rd party customs brokers so the evaluations and charges are always the highest applicable and their service charges are often hefty. People started getting fed up with these charges and began refusing shipments at the door. These couriers became wise to this and started sending invoices after the shipments were accepted. By the time the invoice shows up the recipient is less likely to return the product. They would have already used the product, discarded the packaging and would be responsible for return shipping costs and applying to customs for a review once the product was returned. Not completely ethical but pretty damned wise.
I have had amazing and terrible service with DHL. I avoid them, but I know they work very well for Maxim, because they truly are just a better option in Europe. I've recently been sending with Purolator, to the US, and so far I think the guys have been "duty free". It can be tough to find a carrier that doesn't overcharge, and this is a frustrating part of shipping internationally. In my mind, the free shipping from Maxim makes up for the occasional fee that DHL charges.
You're lucky in the States. HMRC in the UK is really tight when it comes to enforcing import VAT/customs duty.
Yep, sounds like things are usually loose enough in the US that most buyersaren't even aware of potential import duties. Having sent a few things to the States, my impression is that the US system is geared towards security concerns (Hey, that 'stone' could be a bomb!) rather than monitoring import cheats. Maybe wise to have your goods labelled and shipped accordingly. For example, a common translation of a knife from Japan is 'kitchen tool' or maybe describe a stone as a 'traditional Japanese' sharpening stone. I dunno, could help.
I just spoke with DHL. The agent was adamant that a U.S. customs agent made the assessment that my stone warranted an import duty. When I cited the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (thanks for providing that to me!) that seems to indicate that my stone should be duty-free, she said there wasn't much she could do because it (the HTS #) wasn't cited on the original invoice.
I asked what I needed to do to dispute the charges. She told me she'd be happy to help, but that I needed to know that if after the dispute has been investigated, if I am still in the wrong, I need to pay an ADDITIONAL $75 because US Customs has to 're-open' the file. Sounds like extortion to me.
The sum of money actually isn't all that much; it's the principle. I hope this doesn't come off as a bunch of whining self-righteousness to our friends in Europe and elsewhere that pay import duties as a matter of course--I'm just kind of put off by this, especially since it seems like the duty shouldn't have been assessed.
Oh well, I'll have to give this some thought and figure out what to do next.
I was very excited when heard a doorbell and saw the DHL package showed up on my doorstep.
Then as I closed the door, the DHL driver quickly shouted at me to wait.
The rest of the story was pretty much the same with what you experienced.
I was a little bit annoyed at the first, but after using the stones to sharpen my knives, I got my smile back.