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Call the mail police!
October 21, 2009 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I have discovered that someone I don't like very much made a mistake: he sent a large quantity of individually personalized mail at bulk mail rates via USPS. I believe this is a no-no, but ultimately I would guess it is a pretty minor no-no. What are the consequences of this? Are there civil or criminal penalties when this is discovered?
posted by Mr. Justice to Law & Government (15 answers total)
 
If USPS don't care, I can't really see anyone else caring, somehow.
posted by Solomon at 3:05 PM on October 21, 2009


My experience with bulk mail is that there is a USPS employee who inspects bulk mail drop-offs to make sure it complies with the rules.

You admit that it was a mistake. Do you really dislike someone so much that you want to civilly/criminally punish them for making a mistake?
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:15 PM on October 21, 2009


Don't be a d-bag, man. He made a mistake- you even said so. Besides, no one goes to jail for that sort of thing. If they catch the error, the post office just returns the mail to the sender for the proper postage.
posted by inturnaround at 3:20 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Could you clarify what you mean by "individually personalized?" The USPS web page on Standard Mail (a.k.a. bulk mail) says that Standard Mail "can not be used for sending personal correspondence, handwritten or typewritten letters, or bills and statements of account." But if making the letters "individually personalized" was done by some computerized process, it doesn't seem that that would prevent it from being legally sent as Standard Mail.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:24 PM on October 21, 2009


The OP is not asking if it is right to turn in the offender. They are asking what the penalties might be.

UNC Charlotte's Mail Service page suggests "penalties of two to 15 cents per piece".
posted by soelo at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2009


If the mail’s reached its destination, no one--and certainly not the USPS--is going to revisit this. Especially if the sender's an individual. Imagining the cost to tax payers to investigate, review and penalize citizens who send their christmas cookies book rate makes this question to me seem kind of silly. And petty.
posted by applemeat at 3:27 PM on October 21, 2009


The OP is not asking if it is right to turn in the offender. They are asking what the penalties might be.
If that's what the OP was asking, what's the point of even mentioning where the person stands?

Assuming this is work-related, if this is what you're nitpicking and resorting to in order to get this guy out of your life, perhaps it should be you that makes some sort of move.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:28 PM on October 21, 2009


Thanks for the help. Nestor, inturnaround, June: This question is about a campaign fundraising mailing that competes with the campaign I am working on. Given that our opponent already accused us of 'misrepresentation' in a statewide newspaper for what most people would see as a minor and unintentional mistake in a different direct mail piece, I am curious to know what the standard of restitution/fine is for conning the USPS out of approximately a dime per letter.

DevilsAdvocate: I don't think there's much difference among the letters. They have different salutations inside the envelope: Dear Alice, Dear Bob, Dear Carol and so forth.
posted by Mr. Justice at 3:51 PM on October 21, 2009


It's been 15 years or so since I regularly dealt with bulk mail, but here's what I remember. Whether you're mailing 50 or 50,000 pieces, they're supposed to be identical. This is because they're processed -- get this -- in bulk. They should all be the exact same weight and dimensions and have the same contents because they're all going to be charged at the same rate.

There is the understanding when you obtain a bulk mail permit that the USPS has the authority to spot-check individual pieces to ensure that they are in fact identical. When I did twice monthly mailings at a job I had for three or four years, our mailings were inspected only two or three times. Our mailings consisted of subscription renewals or fundraising letters. If they had opened three letters and found renewals and fundraising letters mixed together, they would have sent us back to the office to sort them into separate mailings, but they wouldn't have fined us. (Unless we were found to be repeatedly trying to skirt the rules.)

If, say, the bulk mailing your nemesis sent out had the salutation crossed through and had penned in the recipient's name in an effort to be more personal, the PO probably would have let that slide. But if the mailing consisted of 50 different versions of "My Summer Vacation" to 50 different aunts and uncles, that would have raised a red flag. It probably wouldn't have resulted in fines, but probably WOULD result in the revocation of the permit.

If they've been delivered, the USPS isn't likely to give a fig.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:58 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


On posting, now that I see it's a campaign mailing....

I think there's a separate bulk mail permit for campaign materials. (Or at least there used to be.) I think they're inspected with more regularity, so any violation of USPS rules is less likely to slip by. But there's also the fact that the mailings must conform to the rules of both the FEC and your state election commission. If you're looking to jam someone (which would be shitty, actually, and which I am by no means advocating), you might want to check whether there are penalties there, as well.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:02 PM on October 21, 2009


June: This question is about a campaign fundraising mailing that competes with the campaign I am working on. Given that our opponent already accused us of 'misrepresentation' in a statewide newspaper for what most people would see as a minor and unintentional mistake in a different direct mail piece, I am curious to know what the standard of restitution/fine is for conning the USPS out of approximately a dime per letter.
Ah, this makes a lot more sense. My apologies!
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:07 PM on October 21, 2009


Here's the US Domestic Mail Manual section on Standard Mail eligibility.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:11 PM on October 21, 2009


We made a mistake once when preparing a new bulk mailing. USPS just came back to us for the extra cost (bringing it up to normal mailing rates per piece), and deducted the additional amount from the bulk mail permit fund (it's prepaid and you draw from it, you don't pay separately each time). But we were caught at the BMU sorting office when we brought it in, so we had the option to fix the problem and resubmit (not worth our time at that point, so we opted to pay extra instead).

My bulk mail post office lady said that it happens all the time. If it happens more than a few times, they may revoke the permit - but seldom do. I didn't get the impression that it was a big deal at all. If it was sent out incorrectly, I don't think they care. If anything, it's the BMU personnel that would be in trouble for letting something through that was incorrectly prepared or illegal.
posted by gemmy at 4:12 PM on October 21, 2009


Take a look at this Customer Support Ruling from the USPS on this issue for political Advocacy Mailings. In particular, this section seems relevant to the case at hand:
The following are examples of information that is not considered to be personal for mail classification purposes:

(b) The name and mailing address of the addressee are not considered to be personal information. This is true whether that information, or a discrete element of the name and address, is used in the body of a letter, the heading, envelope, or any component of the mailpiece.
So "Dear Alice" is not personal information, which according to this Standard Mail decision tree means it is allowed. You may want to check the mailings for other differences, but even then it would have to fail the other tests listed in that Customer Support Ruling I linked to.
posted by smackfu at 4:58 PM on October 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am a Business Mail Entry Unit clerk, and Smackfu is right. Name and address aren't personal information. When your nemesis brought in the mail, a clerk would have looked over the mailing and even opened at least one piece. If s/he saw something that looked personal, s/he would have opened more. If there was something truly personal in the mailing, the customer would have the choice of taking the mailing back or fixing it so it could be mailed at 1st class prices. That would include fixing the indicia to read 1st class rather than standard and would probably require at least 500 pieces rather than 200.

Once it was accepted, it was good to go as standard or nonprofit mailing. If someone downstream noticed a problem, the onus would have been on the accepting clerk, not the mailer.
posted by faceonmars at 10:51 PM on October 21, 2009


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