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USPS assigning a PO Box without consent?
December 29, 2010 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Can the US post office just assign you a PO box without your consent and refuse let you switch your mailing address to your home?

We recieved a call in the office from a woman having difficulty recieving mail at her home, claiming the Post Office assigned her a PO Box without her consent and is not delivering mail to her home. Is this even possible?

According to her, she had lived in her home for 50 years, this seems to have happened fairly recently for her, the post office is treating this as a change of address and automatically sending mail to the PO Box. She sounded a little unstable so we had trouble believing there isn't more to the story, but I'm just shocked at the idea that the post office would have the authority to change your mailing address without your consent.

Details: This is Philadelphia, a fairly densely populated part of town and, according to google maps, down the street from a post office. So this is not a case of a physically isolated adress that is hard to deliever to.
posted by piratebowling to Law & Government (34 answers total)
 
Unlikely. PO boxes are a source of revenue for the post office. Since you have to pay to have one everywhere I've ever heard of, it's dubious that they'd just give one to this lady.

I think she's confused.
posted by phunniemee at 9:44 AM on December 29, 2010


I lived in a very small rural town where they didn't do mail delivery, and the post office for free assigned me a PO Box (I could upgrade to a bigger box for money, but the box was free). There was, in this case, no option for hope delivery, but that was true for everyone in the town, not just my address (which happened to be on the main road just down the street from the post office)

So yes, it's possible for the post office to do this in certain circumstances.
posted by brainmouse at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only cases of PO boxes being assigned that I know of, are (as you said) to rural addresses that are ridiculously hard to get to.

If she's down the street from a post office, perhaps it's something weird like she has a big dog that's attacked mail carriers and she refuses to deal with it, something extraneous like that.
posted by geodave at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2010


This seems... veyr, very strange, since the USPS charges for PO Boxes. They're not going to give them away for free. And as you note, there's really no advantage to it.

What I'm going to guess is that the scenario has to do with a child or other person setting up a PO box to intercept her mail. Maybe it's on the up-and-up and they have power of attorney and are managing their elderly mother/aunt/cousin's finances and want to make sure she doesn't miss bills; maybe it's pure scam and they're taking advantage of her; but to me this pretty much screams "It's not the USPS, somebody else did this in her name."
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can change someone's address without their consent online; they have to actively decline this happening -- they get a letter (which she may have missed) -- or else it goes through automatically. This may have happened to her and she thinks that rather some person doing it, it was done by the Post Office itself.
posted by griphus at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


(er, no option for home delivery, not hope delivery, which is something else entirely...)
posted by brainmouse at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am not sure about the assigning a POB, but the post office can, and does refuse to deliver to some addresses if they feel doing so is unsafe.

There is a fellow and hour north from us who is a notorious loony, the Post Office refused to deliver his mail because he claims his property is booby trapped against the government... of course in typical fashion he also raises holy hell that the post office (government) won't deliver the mail.

Not saying this lady is in the same boat, but perhaps her residence is a hazard for some reason and they are holding her mail at the post office (rather than post office box)?
posted by edgeways at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2010


It is possible for someone to fraudulently forward her mail. The only way the USPS verifies your identity is by charging $1 to a credit card that matches your name.

If someone has opened a credit card in her name or has stolen her card they could be covering this up by forwarding her mail.

I would be very concerned about identity theft if I were her.
posted by fontophilic at 9:52 AM on December 29, 2010


I think that identity theft or some related agent outside the USPS being involved is possible.

Another outside possibility is that the post office recently installed a common mail box for the whole street (it's divided for each house and they send you a mail key to access your box). This is becoming more common as a way to cut costs, but AFAIK this is only done for new home construction. I've never heard of someone losing their home mail box to a street-wide box.
posted by muddgirl at 9:57 AM on December 29, 2010


There are any number of reasons why the P.O. might stop delivering mail to her physical address and start using a P.O. Box. She may have a dangerous condition. She may have stopped taking in her mail. (If the mail receptacle is so full of mail that new mail can't be put into it, they will collect all of the mail from the box and stop delivering. Usually this is followed by a note that mail can be retrieved from the P.O., but after repeated times, they might open the P.O. Box for a place to put the mail.) As has been mentioned above, someone may have attempted to re-route her mail. They don't usually telephone to verify, but send a letter to the "old" address. They may have abandoned delivery on her street due to any number of factors. She may not have a legally acceptable mail box and an old carrier delivered to it, but a new carrier is adhering to the law. Etc., etc.

Get power of attorney from her and then ask the Postmaster what is going on. They should be able to document any reasons for this change.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:59 AM on December 29, 2010


I know of someone who has had problems with their dog being aggressive toward mail carriers, so USPS refuses deliver to their house. They pick up their mail at the post office down the street, presumably at a PO box.
posted by illenion at 10:01 AM on December 29, 2010


I don't think it's an identity theft issue. She has the key to the PO Box and recieves all the mail delivered to the box.

I appreciate all the theories, and it has made em understand a little better how this could have happened. What is so infuriating is there are many details of this story that I will not be able to know or find out. There is probably something going on like the power of attorney thing or perhaps something in her home os a danger to the mail carrier. She acted as if this was something done to her, out of the blue that she is unable to change or refute easily.
posted by piratebowling at 10:01 AM on December 29, 2010


Get power of attorney from her and then ask the Postmaster what is going on.

Absolutely not. This woman is one constituent of several thousands. She is not related to me and that is wildly inappropriate.
posted by piratebowling at 10:03 AM on December 29, 2010


I know of someone who has had problems with their dog being aggressive toward mail carriers, so USPS refuses deliver to their house. They pick up their mail at the post office down the street, presumably at a PO box.

Similarly, I had a family member who didn't take care of their property, including letting their mailbox fall apart. The Post Office stopped delivering it, and held it for him to come get.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:04 AM on December 29, 2010


You can probably just go with her to the post office and help suss out the real situation without having to do any sort of power of attorney thing.
posted by brainmouse at 10:06 AM on December 29, 2010


Perhaps you could get contact information for family members from her? Call a son/daughter/relative and let them sort it out, and they can call you back if something really nefarious is going on.
posted by JanetLand at 10:16 AM on December 29, 2010


You can probably just go with her to the post office and help suss out the real situation without having to do any sort of power of attorney thing.

While I appreciate the helpful spot you are all coming from, I work at an cultural non-profit institution. She celled because she was not reciveing a monthly calendar to her home address. It is far, far, far outside of my professional realm to solve her mail problems with the USPS. This question was written out of curiosity, I thought it was an odd situation but one in no way am I obligated to solve for her.
posted by piratebowling at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2010


The only way the USPS verifies your identity is by charging $1 to a credit card that matches your name.

Sadly, it does not even have to match the name.
posted by griphus at 10:25 AM on December 29, 2010


I agree with Tomorrowful, since this woman has reportedly lived in her home for 50 years, she's probably elderly and perhaps she no longer has all of her faculties.

Maybe someone is managing her mail via the PO box or maybe she signed up for the PO box and doesn't remember/understand.
posted by crankylex at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2010


I thought it was an odd situation but one in no way am I obligated to solve for her.

Sorry -- your use of the word "constituent" made me think you *were* trying to solve it.
posted by JanetLand at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2010


The likelihood of someone who isn't on top of her game emotionally or cognitively giving you an incorrect story is much, much greater than the USPS suddenly switching an urban address to box-only pickup.

That said, there are situations in which that happens, including construction that impedes delivery to the building and buildings where there has been a significant problem with mail theft. So it's possible that that might be the scenario. (I don't know if they make you pay for your post office box in those situations or not.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2010


Janetland, I understand fully. I used that word to still remain vague as possible, but it gave the wrong impression, clearly. What I'm confused about is how me saying someone as vague as "someone ccalled my office" turned into people advising me to seek power of attorney.
posted by piratebowling at 11:01 AM on December 29, 2010


Since you know her home address and the location of her nearest post office, maybe you could call the post office and ask the postmaster if there's any reason why they're not delivering to her address (just in general terms, not in a way that makes them think you're trying to violate her privacy). If you speak professionally and in a concerned manner, they'll probably be willing to tell you if it's anything that was a decision on their end.
posted by amyms at 11:21 AM on December 29, 2010


you're not looking to solve the issue. you have no details besides what she's told you (which seems inaccurate at best). the answer to your question is that there is no way to know the answer without taking further steps like power of attorney or advocating with her to the post office. chastising us for being "wildly inappropriate" is weird. your continued insistence that we're answering the question wrong is pushing this further and further into chatfilter.

so - to sum up:
Can the US post office just assign you a PO box without your consent and refuse let you switch your mailing address to your home?

yes.
posted by nadawi at 11:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I lived in a very small rural town where they didn't do mail delivery, and the post office for free assigned me a PO Box

This was me as well. Each house that was in the small village which was, incidentally, right up the street from the post office, got a free PO Box and got no home delivery. Mail sent to your home street address would either wind up getting returned or delivered to the PO Box depending on the vagaries of the post office workers that day. This was borderline inconvenient because it meant that you sort of had to know how someone was sending you something before knowing which address to give to them [along with associated problems of people who don't deliver to PO boxes and people who require your "home address" even though they are going to be mailing you things].

So yes, this is possible and in rural areas it's common.
posted by jessamyn at 11:53 AM on December 29, 2010


"I lived in a very small rural town where they didn't do mail delivery, and the post office for free assigned me a PO Box"

I can't understand how this is not illegal. It's like cheating the customer. When you buy a stamp, you pay for a service. Which is to deliver the item to a particular address.
posted by WizKid at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2010


WizKid - there are a lot of areas that just plain don't get mail delivery. As far as the USPS is concerned, they don't have an address - if you buy a stamp and list a non-USPS recognized address, you're at fault, not them. It's not like 15th main street, dallas - it's like RT 7, County Road 14592, Goshen County.
posted by nadawi at 1:48 PM on December 29, 2010


I can't understand how this is not illegal.

The US Postal Service isn't a business, it's a government agency, so it's not governed by the same laws that apply to businesses.

The reason for the "rural customers have to pick up their mail at post offices" policies is that there are lots of places in the US where the geography is such that house-to-house mail delivery would be unsustainably expensive for the postal service. The decision is made to inconvenience some customers in order to keep rates lower over the entire system.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:04 PM on December 29, 2010


The small town my parents live in assigns PO Boxes to everyone who lives there, and no one has delivery unless they are along the former rural routes, outside the village corporation limits. It is incredibly bizarre to me, and no one in the town likes it, but it's mired in small town politics and such, so that's the way it is.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 2:37 PM on December 29, 2010


If you want to be helpful, why don't you refer her to her local Congressional reps. office? Mine was very helpful in getting our mail delivery sorted out.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:51 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


nadawi, If I came off as a petulant child, I sincerely apologize. I can assure you it was unintentional. Somehow my original word made it seem as if I had a much deeper relationship or obligations to the woman. I was trying to correct that assumption.

I think I may have phrased some of my question unclearly. I was really trying to assess if there would be reasons someone would be refused mail delivery to their home they had previously received mail at that location. I was well aware that in rural areas mail delivery to post office boxes is fairly common, I was just surprised at the scenario she was describing since it is a fairly densely populated, urban setting. I was really looking for answers along the line "Yes, mail service can be denied for the following reasons." or "Yes, there is a controversial cost saving measure being put in place by the USPS, where this is happening, here's an article."

On preview Ideefixe, if the woman does call again, (because we are expecting a follow up) I think that is a recommendation I will take and doesn't make me feel as if I'm trying to get too deeply involved in her life. Thank you.
posted by piratebowling at 3:05 PM on December 29, 2010


My grandfather lives in a small town, in a rural area, and he also has to walk to the post office to pick up his mail. It's only a few blocks and he loves it, but I agree that it seems strange.

The USPS postal manuals are all online, maybe the answer is in there somehow?
posted by gjc at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2010


Even the most dangerous neighborhoods in North Philly get mail delivery; I know someone who was a mail carrier there. However, you do need a mailbox or mail slot with enough room for mail delivery. (Maybe her door was replaced and the new one lacks a mail slot, or she blocked the mail slot out of cold/paranoia/?)

Instead of her state rep, I'd refer her to her city councilperson's office. If there's a truly a misunderstanding, her councilperson can clear it up.
posted by desuetude at 5:39 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, what desuetude said. It could be that there is a chronic problem with her building's mailboxes, either of accessibility or of mail theft, or that there is a chronic problem with her mailbox alone. Starting at the local level seems like the best way for her to get results.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:51 PM on December 29, 2010


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