Once upon a time, I was a defender of the US post office. I figured it couldn’t be easy to deliver mail correctly as often as they do. Then I discovered the problem: when something does go wrong, especially if it’s their fault, many post offices will not do anything to help you solve it. In this article, I cover some possible solutions, including switching to a virtual mail box system like TravelingMailbox or EarthClassMail.
Mail Forwarding? What’s that?
It started a few years ago when I moved across town from one zip code to another. I set up a forwarding order from Old Zip to New Zip and gave it to the carrier in advance of the date I wanted forwarding to start, as I had been instructed. Immediately – before I had even moved – I stopped getting mail altogether. It was all getting bounced back to senders – including important checks and bills. The carrier was useless. Calling them was useless, because the supervisors were never available. I spent a lot of time driving to the post office and talking to a supervisor to get it straightened out. It was like they’d never seen a forwarding order before. Before my very eyes they struggled to understand what their own form meant.
Then I spent a lot of time and energy calling everyone who regularly sent me bills or checks, telling them both about my new address and to expect the returned mail. Fortunately, they all took good care of me, but it was still a month before I had all my late checks and bills at the new place, because it took so long for the mail to be returned to sender. In the meantime, they bounced some mail back from my bank, causing the bank to close my ATM card for fear of fraud – yet another phone call and inconvenience for me to deal with.
Mail forwarding becomes mail reversal?
But that’s not the worst of it. I thought my mail forwarding issues were resolved until a few months later, when I bought something on Ebay – vintage items that couldn’t be replaced. After a few weeks, I emailed the sender and asked what address she’d sent them to. She wrote back with my new address and gave me a tracking number, too. I checked the tracking number on the USPS website: it said my package had arrived on August 6th to my old address. Their own tracking proved they had delivered it to the wrong person.
Get it? My new post office, for lack of a better term, reverse-forwarded it back to my old one. Now how on earth does that happen? And the package mysteriously disappeared forever. They swore the carrier had delivered it, so they assumed the new tenants in my old apartment had opened the mail and kept it. I have my doubts about that.
I asked the post office to investigate how this happened. I was assured I’d receive a call within two days, which of course I didn’t. I never heard anything again, and never got so much as an apology. Since then, I’ve talked to a number of people who had the reverse forwarding thing start up once their forwarding order expired. It seems like this just isn’t a function USPS can handle anymore.
Vacation replacement? Never heard of it
Since this incident, I’ve had an interesting situation every year around the winter holidays – my local postal carrier tends to take her vacation around that time, so guess who delivers parcels to my route? No one. They just mount up at the post office until somebody feels like delivering them. This is the sort of behavior that only a business that has a monopoly could get away with. I now use UPS whenever I have a choice – not that they’re a whole lot more reliable, but at least there’s always a tracking number, and they look on tracking as part of their job. The post office’s response tends to be more along the lines of, “Well, why don’t you give it a few more days? Oh, you did. Well, give it a few more!”
Well, you had a minor typo, and we were bored
Then there was the more recent incident where I sent someone a package via Priority Mail, and it bounced back (forcing me to pay to ship it again) because, according to the USPS, the address wasn’t precisely right. Okay, fine – people get confused about suite numbers and “care of” and “attention” and all that stuff. But this parcel was going to the only business in a particular building – how confusing could it really have been? I really think sometimes they look for excuses to return mail so you’ll have to pay shipping again. And in this particular incident, I honestly believed the worker at the post office had just tossed it down the sewer because she was one of the nastiest, rudest human beings I ever had the misfortune to have to deal with.
My solution: no more mail forwarding
The last time I moved, here’s what I did:
- I just didn’t even use mail forwarding. I was very careful to update everyone with my new address. I made sure they understood I wouldn’t have forwarding, because that seems to lead to more lost mail. Result: no lost mail.
- I switched to paperless billing (and autopay) on every account I could. Autopay and emails are more reliable than snail mail.
I’ve also been testing out mail scanning and forwarding as an option. TravelingMailbox will scan labels from mail and parcels you get and upload them. You can ask them to (a) just shred it, (b) open it and scan the contents of paper mail or (b) forward the mail/parcel to you. This is especially good if you move a lot and don’t ever want to have to update your address with anyone except Traveling Mailbox. They can even deposit checks for you, for an additional fee.
For outgoing mail…
For outgoing mail, I’ve found that another post office near me is far more reliable, and the staff is professional and courteous. By using them for deliveries, I’ve had no trouble getting things shipped. But I’m stuck with the post office for my zip code when it comes to receiving mail or mail forwarding. And that post office is one of the crappiest I’ve ever encountered. So, again with the need for mail scanning and forwarding.
US Postal Inspector
I did start an investigation of post office fraud when those Ebay items just plain went missing. It wasn’t helpful – it felt to me more like a smokescreen to make you think they’re trying to do right by you, when really they’re doing nothing. But you can call 1-877-876-2455 and choose option 3 for mail theft. (Do not choose option 1 – they’ll tell you to call 1-800-ask-usps, which is perfectly useless.) I used the phone option, and they were very professional and courteous, but they never called me back as they promised, and I don’t think they really did anything.
What are your bad experiences with the post office?