Customs in the anti-fraud context

Despite the open borders, Austrian Customs is still involved in numerous activities that serve not only to protect the population and the economy. As a tax administration, Customs is responsible, inter alia, for collecting customs duties, consumption taxes, the contribution of contaminated sites and monitoring prohibitions and restrictions.

  • Fight against smuggling
  • Consumption tax controls (alcohol, mineral oil)
  • Prohibitions and restrictions (counterfeit products, weapons and war material, medicines, drugs, etc.)
  • Species protection of plants and animals
  • Product piracy 
  • Cash on hand

Customs investigation (Zollfahndung, ZOFA

In each of the nine customs offices in Austria there are customs investigation teams (ZOFA) whose main task is the fight against smuggling and the associated enforcement of the Austrian Code of Fiscal Offences.

The investigations focus on cigarette smuggling at the national and international levels. Since cigarette smuggling, and counterfeiting in particular, is a Europe-wide problem, international cooperation with the European Union, in particular with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAFOffice européen de lutte anti-fraude), is essential. In the past, joint investigations with customs investigations in other member states have led to the discovery and judicial conviction of many groups of perpetrators who were active across borders. 

Our own customs investigation team, the internet and Cybercrime Team with the appropriate IT equipment, deals with the fight against fraud on the internet in all its facets. This includes securing evidence and restoring deleted data on computers. Market observation with regard to current trends in electronic commerce (especially mail order) and operational internet investigation as well as the identification of perpetrators are part of the activities of these specialists.

Operational customs supervision (Operative Zollaufsicht, OZA

Every day, thousands of vehicles and coaches carry people and goods to, through and within Austria and the entire European Union. The abolition of customs controls directly at the borders with the new Member States, the non-harmonised excise duty rates, the differing rules of prohibitions and restrictions on the possession, movement or use of goods in circulation across borders necessitate specific strategies for a risk-based use of mobile surveillance and control measures.

This activity is carried out by appropriately trained staff (operational customs supervision), wearing outwardly recognisable clothing and sometimes armed. The staff of Operational Customs Supervision are responsible for the development of risk analyses and risk profiles based on their own experience and also on national and international trends. 

Audits customs

Through their work, auditors ensure the uniformity of taxation and guarantee the revenue for the state. This makes an important contribution to fair competition and to strengthening Austria as a business location. On the basis of the accounting documents, they check compliance with legal standards and their conformity with economic transactions.

Mobile X-ray vehicles

Smuggling organisations abound with ideas when it comes to smuggling illegal goods into Austria or the EU. Controls of whole truck loads, containers, luggage of passengers in coaches or mailings are always very personnel and time-consuming and also require a corresponding infrastructure (control halls etc.).

Like many other customs administrations, Austria has therefore been using two mobile truck/container scanners and an X-ray vehicle for several years in order to achieve maximum success with a minimum of personnel.

The X-ray vehicle is used to check travellers’ luggage, spare tyres of motor vehicles, air and postal items up to a size of 100 × 100 cm. In the operator room, the operator has two screens at his/her disposal, which enable him/her to carry out different image presentations in order to achieve an exact evaluation with regard to the content of the controlled object.

Among the highlights of the successes are drugs and cigarettes in double suitcase bottoms, cigarettes in fire extinguishers, as insulation material in cool boxes, in food and Tetra Pack boxes, in loudspeakers, etc.

Movie: X-ray vehicles

Sniffer dogs

Sniffer dogs have been successfully used in the Austrian customs administration for several decades. Before Austria’s accession to the European Union in 1995 and until the eastward enlargement in 2004, sniffer dogs were mostly trained as guard dogs and drug detection dogs. In the western and southern federal states, the four-legged companions were also trained as avalanche search dogs and successfully deployed in disasters.

Most dogs have a combined cigarette/drugs or cash/drugs training. The only “specialists” are the species protection sniffer dogs which are conditioned to more than 20 different odours. Our dogs, which are stationed at mobile units throughout Austria, are used as sniffer dogs during checks. As an important factor, these dogs are additionally trained for the security function of the entire control team on protection duty.

Video: Sniffer dogs in the Austrian Customs Administration