Missing Parcel? Here’s What You Can Do
Sending parcels of gifts and mementos to loved ones internationally is not uncommon. A popular way to send gifts from Singapore to friends and family situated overseas is through a freight forwarder.
Freight forwarding is the coordination of shipment of goods from one location to another via single or multiple carriers either by air, sea, rail, or highway. Freight forwarders help to manage every aspect of the transportation process such as storing goods before shipment and navigating customs regulations. While they don’t handle the movement of goods themselves, they help plan each step of shipment in order to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective transfer of goods. Engaging a freight forwarder is a popular option for individuals as well as companies because a freight forwarder can help to streamline the process of shipping goods.
In some unfortunate cases, the parcels do not reach their intended owner because they have gone missing or remain undelivered. When this happens, there may be reasonable explanations for the delays. One instance is the surge of online orders, during Covid-19, for example, which caused a bottleneck in the sorting and shipping process.
On the other hand, in some cases, the fault may fall squarely on the logistics company where they may be fraudulent and become uncontactable when issues arise. This was precisely the case in 2022 when 72 complaints were filed against a local logistic company for failing to deliver items from Singapore to India. Many customers experienced 4 to 12 months’ delay for the goods to be delivered and a lack of response from the company when contacted.
This article covers the following possible avenues of legal recourse that may be available to you if you are faced with such a situation when sending your parcel from Singapore to a foreign location:
It will also discuss below what you should look out for when using a freight forwarding service.
Avenues of Recourse If Your Parcel is Undelivered or Goes Missing
If your parcel goes missing, these are some options that you may consider. However, there is no guarantee that you might be successful with any of the possible courses of action highlighted below and it would ultimately depend on the circumstances of your case.
Contacting the company
The first step is to contact the company that you have engaged to deliver the package to find out the reasons for the delay or non-delivery. This can usually be done by contacting the company’s customer service or filing a missing package claim with the company. You may have to provide your delivery number and contact details so that the company will be able to contact you should they locate the missing package.
If you have subscribed to package tracking services, you may be able to check the parcel’s stage of delivery on the company’s website and get a clearer idea of what happened to your parcel.
Nonetheless, tracking information is not always accurate and the tracking status may indicate that the parcel is delivered when it was not delivered at all. On the other hand, should your tracking status indicate that the parcel is delivered but you cannot find it, you should check any alternative delivery locations of the address as the carrier may have placed it at a more secure location e.g., the back entrance instead of the front gate. If you have checked all possible locations and are sure that you have not received the parcel, you should contact the company and submit a missing package claim.
Filing a police report
If the company is uncontactable despite numerous calls and physical visits or the company is no longer operating, these may be signs indicating that the company had no intention of carrying out the agreed business deal of delivering the goods. The company could be fraudulent by lying about its services or misrepresenting facts in order to make an illicit gain.
If you suspect that you have been scammed, you may report the incident by filing an e-report online with the Singapore Police Force or file a report at the nearest Neighbourhood Police Centre. Reporting your case will help the police launch investigations early and potentially prevent more victims from getting scammed.
Whether you will be able to get your money back depends on several factors like how quickly the police are able to find the perpetrators, freeze their bank accounts, and whether the monies can be traced. If the funds are transferred overseas, it will be even harder for the police to recover the funds as it would require the cooperation from overseas law enforcement agencies. Significant efforts have to be made to trace monies across different jurisdictions and the effectiveness of law enforcement authorities will differ in each jurisdiction.
Lodging a case complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE)
Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), CASE is one of the first points of contact for local consumers to handle complaints. CASE is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that can assist aggrieved consumers to obtain redress, and in some cases, compensation through negotiation or mediation. CASE primarily handles consumer-to-business disputes and you can engage their services by submitting a complaint online.
After submitting a complaint online, CASE officers will assess your situation and recommend either the assisted scheme or filing a case. Under the assisted scheme, CASE will help you draft a letter to the retailer to communicate your concerns and personally deliver this letter to the company. If a case is to be filed, the CASE officer will advise you on the available options such as mediation and escalating the case to the Small Claims Tribunal, or other legal recourse. CASE offers mediation conducted by two neutral mediators as a quicker and more affordable means of dispute resolution as compared to litigation. The aim is for parties to reach a settlement with the facilitation of the mediators. The session lasts around 3 hours and each signed settlement is legally binding in court.
Under the Second Schedule of CPFTA, failing to make timely deliveries would qualify as an unfair practice if the company accepts payment from customers despite knowing that it is unable to supply goods within a specified and/or reasonable period. In this case, the company accepting payment for package delivery even though it has no means to deliver the package would constitute an unfair practice.
If there are persistent complaints by consumers against the company for unfair practices, CASE may gather evidence against the errant company and file an injunction application with the court in order to put a stop to its egregious trading practices. Furthermore, if the company does not comply with the injunction order, the company may be liable for contempt of court which is a criminal offence that could result in a fine and/or imprisonment.
Filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT)
The SCT is part of the State Courts and helps to resolve specific low-value conflicts between consumers and businesses more quickly and less expensively compared to a civil trial. Your claim is eligible for the SCT if the claims:
- Has a total value below S$20,000 (or S$30,000 if there is a memorandum of consent from both parties);
- Is filed within 2 years of the event which created your cause of action;
- Is not filed against a respondent located outside of Singapore; and
- Falls within the following category of claims:
- Contract for sale of goods
- Contract for provision of service
- Tenancy agreement for residential premise not exceeding 2 years
- Damage to property not due to motor vehicle or caused by a neighbour
- Dispute against supplier under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act
- Refund of motor vehicle deposits under Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Motor Vehicle Dealer Deposits) Regulations
If your case fulfills the above conditions, you may file a claim with SCT through the Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS). When submitting the claim, customers will have to provide supporting documents such as invoices, contracts, and receipts of items in the parcel as evidence of the amount that they are claiming.
After submitting the claim, the Registrar will conduct an initial mediation and consultation. The consultation is facilitated by the registrar where the parties will have an opportunity to discuss and resolve the dispute. If parties reach a settlement during the consultation, the registrar may record a consent order to reflect their agreement. If both sides cannot reach a settlement, the parties will go for an SCT hearing before a tribunal magistrate where both parties will have to present their side of the story and supporting evidence. After which, the tribunal magistrate will make a decision to either enforce or reject the claim.
One of the advantages of SCT is that the losing party does not have to bear any legal costs. If the SCT action succeeds, the tribunal will order a stipulated deadline for payment. Afterward, you should contact the company to agree on the payment plan and an amicable resolution.
For more information, please refer to our other article on making SCT claims.
Getting a court order
If you win the case at the SCT but the order is not complied with, you may enforce the order against the company through a court order. Unlike the SCT, an enforcement application is a legal court proceeding and would cost significantly more time and energy. In addition, there is no guarantee that you will be able to recover anything from the company. You will have to spend time and effort to make the necessary applications to enforce the order and pay fees starting from $200 to file the relevant documents.
Before you decide to pursue an enforcement action, you should consider whether it is worthwhile to do so, if you are willing and able to pay the fees for enforcing the order, and whether the company is able to pay you.
Should you decide to proceed with an enforcement action, you have to indicate one or more methods of enforcement in your application. All methods of enforcement are to be carried out by the Sheriff who has the authority to handle enforcement proceedings commenced by the parties. The types of enforcement orders available are:
- Seizure and sale of property – i.e. an order to seize and sell property belonging to the judgement debtor (i.e. the company in question)
- Delivery or possession of property – i.e. an order to seize and deliver or give possession of property in possession or control of the enforcement respondent
- Attachment of debt – i.e. an order to attach a debt which is due to the judgement debtor from any non-party. This means that money deposited by the judgement debtor immediately or in the future will be can be claimed regardless of whether the deposit has matured and notwithstanding any restrictions to the withdrawal
- Anything specified in the court order – lastly, the court can give an order to execute specific directions
If the enforcement order is granted, it is valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Its validity may be extended by the court for 12 months if an application for extension is made before the day it is due to expire. Once the judgement is satisfied and you file a consent or give written notice to the Sheriff not to take further action, the enforcement order ceases to be valid.
Note that even after an enforcement order is granted by the court, the company may object to the order. The company may respond by applying for a stay of enforcement order, where the order is put on hold, if there is a special case that makes it inappropriate to enforce the court order immediately. The stay can be ordered for a specified period or until a specific event takes place.
The company may also object to a specific enforcement order. One instance is the writ of seizure of the company’s assets by the Sheriff which the company will have to provide reasons for the objection. If you accept the reasons, you must notify the Sheriff and objector within 14 days in writing. The Sheriff will then release the specified property. If you fail to consent or dispute the objection within 14 days, the objector may apply to the court for an order to release the specified property.
Suing the company
If your case is not eligible for SCT because the claim exceeds the amount limit ($20,000 or $30,000 with consent) or if the cause of action exceeds the 2 year limit, you may consider suing the company. One important condition is that the cause of action cannot exceed the 6-year limitation period for a breach of contract claim.
This measure is likely a measure of last recourse because of the significant costs and energy as well as uncertain likelihoods of success. You would also have to consider how much you would get back after paying legal fees and how much more you stand to lose due to legal fees if you are unsuccessful. Nonetheless, if the missing parcel is worth a significant amount, the benefit of pursuing a legal case could potentially outweigh the costs.
If you decide to pursue a lawsuit, the most probable cause of action would be to claim breach of contract against the company. To support your case you would need evidence such as a valid contract with clear terms stipulating that the items would be delivered by a specific date. Furthermore, the terms of the contract cannot state that any contractual dispute will be resolved in forums outside of Singapore Courts or in arbitration.
It is highly recommended that you consult a lawyer to advise you on the strength of your case, sufficiency of evidence, and how much you could recover from the lawsuit.
If You are Using a Freight Forwarding Service, What Should You Look Out For?
There are some precautionary measures that you can take to avoid falling victim to a situation where your package goes missing or undelivered.
These precautionary measures include (but are not exhaustive):
- Verifying the company to see if they are a legitimate company (by checking reviews etc). Some factors to consider include:
- Network of global agents – to assess the freight forwarder’s capabilities and smooth delivery of packages
- Range of services provided – whether they are responsive, have tracking services, inventory management, etc.
- Customer service – open lines of communication provide you with the needed support, especially in foreign regions
- Ensuring that proper documentation of your transaction with the company is given and retaining any invoices or correspondences received
- Keeping receipts of items that were being shipped so that you can better assess their money value (where applicable)
When engaging a freight forwarding service to deliver parcels to your loved ones, be sure to check the legitimacy and services of the company. If your parcel is undelivered or has unfortunately gone missing, the first step would be to contact the company to check what happened. If the company is unresponsive and you suspect that they may be fraudulent, you can make a police report or file a claim with CASE, the Small Claim Tribunal, or even a lawsuit.
Should you eventually decide to take legal action as a matter of last resort, it is best to seek assistance from a lawyer to determine the circumstances of your case. You may consult a lawyer via the Call A Lawyer Service if you require quick advice on this matter. If you want further legal advice or are considering pursuing legal action, you should contact a civil litigation lawyer on this issue.
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