Bad idea to let a friend use my mailing address if they don't live here?
December 11, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Is it a bad idea to let a friend who doesn't live here use our mailing address?

So my husband's friend has asked us if he can have his mail sent to our house for a while. I'm not sure what the situation is and why exactly, I'm going to ask him when I see him next. We let him stay with us for a week last month when he got into a tiff with his landlord. He's now living back there temporarily, (I think) and has a new job. This is a young guy who moved from across the country to find work here, so no support from family. He has helped us with favors anytime we need help with anything, is a generally great guy, although maybe sometimes a bit irresponsible. I want to help him out I think it seems like a bad idea to let him use our address, since he doesn't actually live here. I am going to tell him my reasons for saying no: I get enough mail for the old owners of my house that I need to send back every day, so I don't want my already crowded small mailbox to be even fuller. Maybe he owes money to someone, and I don't want creditors looking for him at my place. Also, isn't your address where you have bills sent your permanent residence according to the government? Are there more reasons that I am not thinking of, or should I just help him out? I just don't see why he can't keep getting mail where he is living now, permanent or not, or pay to get a p.o. box. Thoughts?
posted by photoexplorer to Human Relations (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Also, isn't your address where you have bills sent your permanent residence according to the government?

Even if not, it doesn't make a practical difference - all you need to prove to the government that you live someplace is to show them utility bills addressed to you there. I would be very wary of this.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:01 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your sketch-dar is going off, that's enough.

There's no reason this guy can't go to a Mailboxes, etc, or the PO, or whatever for mail delivery.

I don't see how it could affect you, except that it could turn into a hassle, and really who needs it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is an issue I am currently dealing with at work and the main downsides are that for one person we have to forward their mail to them and we are paying the postage. Person A also randomly calls to ask if a specific piece of mail has arrived and that is annoying. Person B said they would come in on a regular basis and pick up their mail, but they never do so we end up spending the postage to mail it to them as well.

So its a waste of time and money in my mind and I would never do it with my home address.
posted by Julnyes at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: Your reasons are good reasons, but you don't really owe him any explanation outside of "I do not want my mailing address used by a person who does not live here." Depending on the sort of person he is -- you know him better than us -- he might just use "because X, Y and Z" as a challenge to explain to you why all the reasons are not valid and you should totally let him use your mailing address and drag this out further.

If you want to be extra-super-nice to this guy, rent him a P.O. Box for a month or two. By which I mean either gift or lend him the money to do so and have him do all the paperwork.

Also, the whole "where the government thinks you live" question is really complicated, and depends a lot on the branch of government. But, at the end of the day, if there's mail coming to your house in his name, someone will think he lives there.
posted by griphus at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I let a relative who's moved out of the country use my home address for mail, just for a few things. It is a HUGE, awful hassle. The amount of crap coming through is enormous, and as a practical matter I need to sort through it, otherwise there literally would not be room to store it... all kinds of junk advertising is disguised as bills and urgent notices, so I need to open her mail, decide what's real, shred/recycle a ton of stuff that isn't mine and takes up room in the bins... and often she has issues with credit cards or whatever and asks me to go look through her piles of stuff... it adds a ton of time and aggravation to bills night; is a logistical nightmare; adds clutter to the house and the work flow; and I hate it. Would never ever do it if there were a better alternative.

If this guy has been a friend and you want to help him, spot him the money to get a PO Box.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:10 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes it's a bad idea. That's one of the many ways that situations like this can arise.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:10 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh and all the legitimate places that need his address then turn around and sell it to a million other places, so even if he only needs it for, say, his social security mailings, you'll still get a metric crap-ton of junk mail coming in.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Give him the "I'm afraid that's just not possible" spiel and suggest that he get a P.O. Box so he can access his mail at his leisure.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, that's sketchy as heck. My friend offered to do the same for a friend of hers that led to some massive pains in the ass. Your own post outlines why this is a bad idea but you don't need to give him excuses, just say no.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:15 AM on December 11, 2012

Ask him why he needs it. It could be some kind of jurisdictional thing with food stamps, for instance - a friend of ours lost her food stamps for a couple of months when she moved counties because of the address change, for instance. It could be that he's afraid of mail getting lost or stolen from his current place. (I never have anything important sent to me at my home address due to past thefts and there was about a year where a friend let me use her address when I could not receive mail at work.)

People in transient or uncertain housing situations who need to receive stuff/show proof of address for benefits or services routinely use others' addresses - this is so common that a government social worker actually told me to let a friend do it. If your friend receives something which is legitimately needed but which can't be sent to a PO box, or if he needs to show proof of residence, a PO box won't help much.

I've let a friend use our address before. Nothing bad happened. We have not received a deluge of mail for her, partly because she doesn't do a lot of online shopping or use a credit card much.

Personally, I'd probably do it if the guy needed it and a PO box was unsuitable (or too far away if the guy doesn't drive). It's vanishingly unlikely that you'll lie on your deathbed regretting that you helped a friend.

Also, I've had people come to my house looking for wrong tenants or past tenants - I had the cops show up and virtually detain my pregnant houseguest as she tried to leave for the hospital (while I was at work - I had to talk to them on the phone and tell them that no warrant meant no dice) because they were convinced that some random petty criminal lived at the house. Which was absolutely impossible given what we knew of past ownership. You can get into all kinds of trouble with addresses regardless of who gets mail there.
posted by Frowner at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I would just say no...there are plenty of reasons above. It's easy enough to get a PO box!
posted by sgo at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2012

You guys are awesome for wanting to help out a young guy out on his own, but yeah, even if there is nothing sketchy in your friend's motivations this just seems like headaches and unforeseen complications waiting to happen, for all of the reasons mentioned. If you can afford it, getting the guy a PO box for a while would be the way to go.
posted by usonian at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2012

I add that needing to use a friend's address seems to me to be a pretty common and noncontroversial working class/poor person thing that many middle class people view as incredibly sketch. There are a lot of things like that.
posted by Frowner at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2012 [20 favorites]

...pretty common and noncontroversial working class/poor person thing...

Having been raised as a working class/poor person in a working class/poor person community, we were always explicitly advised against doing this for anyone but family (and even then, only non-sketchy family) because it would, inevitably, bite you in the ass when your generosity was taken advantage of by someone in dire straits.
posted by griphus at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I could see doing this for a good friend, not for someone else. Clueless companies still send mail here for an occupant from over 10 years ago.
posted by zippy at 11:26 AM on December 11, 2012

I'm originally from a poor / working class background and I wouldn't do this for anyone who doesn't live at my address because it is annoying and yeah it can potentially be sketchy.

but mainly - it is a pain in the butt.
posted by Julnyes at 11:26 AM on December 11, 2012

Seconding Frowner. It would be a really nice thing to do to help this person out. It might end up badly. Many things might end up badly.

That said, it's your choice.
posted by 3491again at 11:30 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: I don't know if it's necessarily sketchy, but it's super-annoying. You don't realize how much mail you get until it piles up for a while. If you do this, literally dedicate a big bin or drawer, dump everything with his name on it in there immediately, and don't think about it. Don't worry what is junk mail or catalogs or not, just stash it and forget about it.
posted by radioamy at 11:32 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of surprised at the overwhelmingly "terrible idea" vibe. I've had my mail sent to friend's houses; I've had friend's mail sent to my house. This was in grad school, and tended to involve people being off on summer contracts, or doing a semester someplace else, and coming through every couple of weeks to couchsurf for a weekend and visit the storage unit where all their stuff was. Of course, these were my friends and I did not think they were sketchy. If you think this particular guy is sketchy, fair enough, but I don't see how his needing an address is a key indicator of his sketchiness.
posted by aimedwander at 11:33 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's slight annoying but no more so than a thousand other things friends do for each other, and it sounds like he's come through for you guys quite a bit.

If he isn't likely to have rabid drug dealers after him, I'd do it (and I have done it).

What does your husband say? It's his friend, right?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:42 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would want to understand why he wants this.

I lived in Guatemala for a few months, but not long enough to uproot my whole life ... That was a great time to use a generous friend as a temporary address and mail filterer -- and it was work for her to do it.

I have served as the mail recipient for a friend splitting from a bad partner situation so she could have her mail be private from her live-in partner before the split. It was work and I was glad to do it.

It's work, and it's ok if you don't want to do it, but you might feel better about both the request and your response if you understand the reason.
posted by rosa at 11:46 AM on December 11, 2012

I also wanted to add that - speaking as somebody who was exposed to more criminality than most people in my childhood - one of the more interesting scams you can run (from an intellectual perspective) is to establish two sets of identities with the government, and thus get two social security numbers. Then you work under one identity while collecting unemployment with the other, and switch every six months or so for +50% income. (Getting new jobs using fabricated resume info is apparently easy compared to fabricating an alternate identity for citizenship purposes.) I would be remiss in pointing out that a good way to start the process is to have an alternate address which proves you're a different person. "No, I'm not Mr. Derringiere, I'm Mr. Derringierre! See, our addresses are completely different." That's just one of the many dangerous liabilities you are exposing yourself to - I'm sure there are many more.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:47 AM on December 11, 2012

People that I let do this usually are required to have the mail addressed C/O myself. This to avoid someone claiming tenants rights. Others above are right that allowing someone to have a mail drop can be the difference between falling of the cliff into homeless and hanging on.

I wouldn't do it if my mailbox was not secure. If people can get mail here, and pick it up themselves, they can have items delivered that aren't paid for etc. I will do it occasionally if I know exactly why it is needed, and have reason to trust in this person.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:51 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also wanted to add that - speaking as somebody who was exposed to more criminality than most people in my childhood - one of the more interesting scams you can run (from an intellectual perspective) is to establish two sets of identities with the government, and thus get two social security numbers. Then you work under one identity while collecting unemployment with the other, and switch every six months or so for +50% income.

I guess if you really think this individual person is so sketchy that he's going to run some kind of intense scam on you, then don't do it - but there are social costs to living your whole life on the assumption that your friends who help you out with stuff are looking to scam you and that their requests are thin fronts for dishonesty.
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on December 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I knew I could count on you guys to sort out this issue and make a decision. Right now I'm thinking more on the side of "it will be a really big pain" more than "he is trying to scam us." I don't know the reason yet but I think it's that he doesn't feel secure getting mail anymore where he lives and shares the mailbox with other roommates who are not too trustworthy. I REALLY don't want extra crap filling up our tiny mailbox, and that will most likely be my primary reason for saying no. I would like to add that he has a full time job and vehicle, so I think he can get a po box. Maybe he just didn't know about that, since he is young and lived with parents before. I think one of the problems I would have is that it isn't just going to be one package mailed here, which I would be fine with. I wouldn't be able to control who gets hold of the address and I know I'll be getting his junk mail for years. I hate having to make these kinds of decisions, my husband knows him better than me but wanted me to say yes or no because I guess I am in charge of mail and stuff. He hates to say no so he asks me! LOL
posted by photoexplorer at 12:01 PM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: I think I would say no unless it was a really close friend and there was a good reason. Otherwise, PO boxes are extremely affordable. If it were just like a package or 2, I might be ok with that. Receiving their junk mail for the next 10 years? No friggen way. I still receive mail from previous roommates and people connected to them that have never even lived with me (their brother or SO).

Once stuff starts coming addressed to someone at your house it will be next to impossible to stop the flow of mail. Also consider the fact that in most cases it is illegal to just throw all that mail away. You are suppose to give all back to the post office with "does not live here, return to sender" on the mail. At that point you will start to irritate you mail person which puts your own mail in jeopardy.

There really is no reason for you to collect mail for a friend that I can think of. Unless they are trying to claim your address is theirs, I don't see the point of doing that over just using a PO box.
posted by nickerbocker at 12:11 PM on December 11, 2012

Your husband should be able to tell his friend 'no' and not have to blame you for that decision... btw....
posted by nickerbocker at 12:13 PM on December 11, 2012

The only time I have let someone else who wasn't living in my apartment use my mailing address was when a guy who was subletting my spare room for a month had to order some textbooks, and even then it was only because his permanent address was in Sweden.

Other than that, not a great idea.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:29 PM on December 11, 2012

Response by poster: Probably true Nickerbocker :) But years of being together have led us to realize that he will always say yes in these situations and I am the reasonable rational one. (Ask me about when he said yes we could take care of a friend's cats for a week without asking me or thinking it through. LOL! It did not end well because my cat hated them, which I would have predicted and said no.) I don't make all the decisions, but he doesn't always see possible problems when offering help to casual friends and acquaintances. Also, I am the "bill payer and mail getter" and he is the cook and handyman primarily. It works for us :)
posted by photoexplorer at 12:30 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

He is more likely trying to scam someone else (say, a local school that requires a residential address to get in-state tuition) than scam you, but I agree that the potential hassle outweighs any benefit you'd get from just being nice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:32 PM on December 11, 2012

It's a major favor to do for someone and it exposes you to a certain amount of risk and hassle. However, that may be OK depending on the person. I would do this for some friends of mine, I would not do this for others. It's your call.
posted by Scientist at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask him to use USPS General Delivery.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:41 PM on December 11, 2012

It is not binary. When I lived in my fraternity house and wanted to be sure of getting an important piece of mail, I had it sent to my girlfriend's apartment. For most everything else, I just gave my address and hoped I would find it in the pile on the floor where the mail ended up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2012

I wouldn't call this automatically a terrible idea, but you're perfectly OK to set a boundary line such as "we'd only do that for family". As Frowner noted, there are a lot of people who consider this a perfectly legitimate favor and a relatively minor imposition, and in the world of the working poor or barely-above-water, it's one of those things that's a lot easier to deal with than making sure you pay for a box at the PO or UPS store. You can do that and end up not getting your mail that you really need that one time that you can't pay the bill on time, and that can really fuck you over in ways that aren't apparent to someone who has basically been able to count on having the same street address for a decade.

Still, your boundaries are yours to set, and this isn't one that you are socially obligated to extend, particularly for vague and non-emergency reasons.
posted by dhartung at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2012

Weird, I am generally super uptight about people impinging on my sense of privacy and control or whatever, and I absolutely wouldn't hesitate to do this for a friend who I wasn't otherwise wary of. I already get mail for about 15 prior residents who may or may not have ever existed. Plus, anyone can send mail to anyone anywhere-- it's not like you're choosing whether to confer some deep and intimate power.
posted by threeants at 3:27 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Despite all the "logic" of the answers, this seems to be mainly a cultural taboo issue. As a result several things which were asserted above may not be true. For example, if first class mail for someone not living at your house arrives, you have no obligation to do or not do anything with it (or so I've been told--this "so I've been told" cite may not be much to go on, but no cite at all was given for the opposite assertion.) Similarly the issue with utility bills as proof of residence is not about the mailing address of the utility bill, but is about the location that the utility is associated with. Since this guy will not be paying your electric bill, he will not be getting mail of that nature. If you want to help this guy out (who may not trust his landlord with his mail) the fact that some others use fake addresses as part of a scam shouldn't be the issue. If it makes you uncomfortable to help him out in this way, you are free to refuse, but don't pretend it's for "logical" reasons.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:36 PM on December 11, 2012

if first class mail for someone not living at your house arrives, you have no obligation to do or not do anything with it (or so I've been told--this "so I've been told" cite may not be much to go on, but no cite at all was given for the opposite assertion.)

This is incorrect. Look up "obstruction of correspondence" for the (various) relevant laws.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:45 PM on December 11, 2012

I absolutely wouldn't hesitate to do this for a friend who I wasn't otherwise wary of.

He is someone to be wary of-- he comes across as the sort of person who will be constantly in need of aid of the just-over-the-boundary-of-normal variety. According to the OP, he has a habit of being irresponsible, he got into a tiff with the landlord, which may indicate that he has problems managing himself, and the whole "he has helped us with favors anytime we need help with anything" for me raises that flag of, "this is a guy who will help out with little things so you'll feel obligated to accommodate his impositions later on." Assuming he's not totally destitute, a PO Box is a reasonable option.
posted by deanc at 3:53 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ive done this for a friend before to help them out. I would text them to let them know if their mail was building up in my letterbox, or if something very official looking came (i.e. from the government). They lived nearby so they would pick it up.

If you do this for him then do not agree to forwarding on his mail to another address, that involves effort and cost. Let him know he needs to come pick it up.

It reads like this guy doesn't trust his landlord or existing mailbox, maybe he's applying for another residence and is expecting mail he doesn't want his landlord privy to? There's all sorts of valid reasons someone might ask for this kind of favour. Of course there is also nothing stopping him from getting a secure PO box.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:43 PM on December 11, 2012

It WILL be a really big pain. My SIL and her husband were in between apartments and stayed with us for most of July, and we are still getting their mail. They supposedly put in a forward order but we probably get about as much mail for them as we do for us, even now. We're about to move house and I feel bad that the new guy is going to be dealing with not only our mail, but their mail, and mail for long-ago tenants...just got a Christmas card today for some people who haven't lived here in at least five years.
posted by town of cats at 10:30 PM on December 11, 2012

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