A VAT refund forgery

March 2 2008

I feel violated at the moment, and it's over a mere 19 euros.

Last October, I was in Milano for the Notes/Domino 8 launch.  While there, I bought my wife a scarf at Gucci.  As is the custom, non-EU residents are entitled to a VAT refund on certain transactions in Europe.  The amount in question wasn't large -- 19,20 Euros, but Gucci automatically generated the paperwork at the point of sale, so it made sense to go ahead and claim the refund.  The refund would be processed to my credit card, making things very easy.

I've seen two firms that seem to handle these VAT refunds.  Premier Tax Free is the agent for Gucci. It turns out they did not have a refund booth in the airside section of Frankfurt Airport terminal 1, where I departed the EU that week.  Because I was carrying the package on, I had to wait until I exited Germany through passport control to start the refund process.  I found the German customs office to get my refund form stamped, and deposited that form in a Premier Tax Free box that was located just outside the customs office.  I noted at the time that the box was pretty full, but otherwise didn't think much about it.

It recently dawned on me that I've not seen the refund appear on my credit card statements.  I sent a mail off to Premier Tax Free.  Within a few days, their customer service responded.  In the response, they provided two scans -- one of my refund form, the other of a cash refund payment receipt.

You can probably guess what's wrong.  A few of the data points on my form have been altered, a signature that doesn't match mine was proffered.  And despite what I assume was the lack of a passport matching the number on the refund form, Premier Tax Free paid someone a cash refund of 19,2 Euros on December 10, 2007, in Germany.  I was in Chicago at the time.  Moreover, I had asked for a credit card refund in a form stamped on October 13...why would I then show up at one of their refund points, two months later, and ask for cash instead?

I've written Premier Tax Free back, with a scan of my own copy of my receipt -- where the surname is "Brill" not "Brillt", the postal code is 60035, not 68835.  But I am now left wondering -- how many of those forms stuffed in the box that day were also diverted and paid?  What percentage of those expecting refunds are likely to follow up?  And shouldn't an agency entrusted with processing a financial transaction have better controls?

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