Help dealing with USPS and recurring lost mail
March 23, 2015 3:00 PM   Subscribe

USPS has lost four packages of mine in the last three months without a trace. Each was handed to my mail carrier and never scanned into the system. Insurance claims denied because it was never scanned into the system, carrier supervisor unhelpful. Looking for advice on how to proceed.

I mail about two packages a week, and because I live in midtown Atlanta where post offices are literally the gateway to hell (if hell is a 20-40 minute line for service followed by assistance from a bored, disgruntled employee), I use USPS' convenient Click-n-Ship followed by carrier pickup.

I do not leave my boxes outside, the mail carrier rings my bell and I hand them to her. This system has worked marvelously for years, until January. I handed my (newish) mail carrier a stack of three boxes, all priority and physically identical. Two were delivered two days later. The third was never scanned into the system. Two months later, I still see the status that says "Shipping label created". I spoke to my mail carrier after 10 days, who referred me to the carrier supervisor, who referred me to another supervisor, who told me that the box would eventually turn up, likely in less than a month, but that all I could do is file a claim - but I should be aware, until boxes are scanned into the system, they're not the responsibility of USPS.

Two uneventful months passed, with my mail being picked up (generally) on time and delivered. The missing box never showed. The USPS claim was denied in 2 days because I had no proof that USPS received it. I ate the $100 and refunded my buyer fully.

Last Tuesday, I handed three priority mail packages to my mail carrier. Two of them were birthday gifts. The non-birthday gift was delivered on Friday. The two birthday gifts have not yet been scanned into the system and neither has been delivered as of today's mail.

Last Wednesday, I handed my mail carrier another two priority mail packages. One was delivered Friday, the second has yet to show up into the system. We're up to four missing priority mail boxes in three months. Something has to get fixed.

Mr. Arnicae says "Switch to FedEx, our new carrier is stealing our mail." I think it is highly unlikely our mail carrier is stealing our mail, but I am not sure what to do next other than possibly never hand my carrier a box again.

What can I do next? My preferred outcome would be - the missing packages are located (they've gotta be somewhere, right), at least the birthday gifts, and I can trust that when I hand my mail carrier a package, the package is safe. Is there someone I could talk to that would be able to help me in some way? I'm willing to go out of my way to contact them but would like to be treated respectfully, which is not what I experienced during my last conversations with the carrier supervisor.

Advice? Help?
posted by arnicae to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I agree with your husband: the new carrier is stealing your mail. Don't give her any more packages. Switch carriers or go to the post office.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:06 PM on March 23, 2015 [31 favorites]

Honestly this system of giving the packages to the mail carrier is clearly not working. Reconsider going to the post office or switching to UPS/FedEx.
posted by saradarlin at 3:12 PM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

This previous question has some info about how to escalate complaints up the USPS chain of command, in case that becomes useful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:17 PM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Many USPS offices have a drop-off area for click and ship packages. You won't get a receipt for them, but you probably don't have to wait in the line and can just hand the package over.

You could also create a form that you ask your carrier to initial once you hand over packages. Something that lists tracking numbers and confirms that they picked it up. If it is your carrier stealing, they may not be so bold if they know that you had them initial something that can be taken to a supervisor.

A complaint letter addressed to carrier's manager and postmaster for your region can also get some attention.
posted by quince at 3:26 PM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

I know at least one person who now takes packages with pre-printed postage to the post office because this very thing has happened to them, and our post office sounds very much like yours , with long lines and unhelpful staff. And, get this: I've even seen the supervisors give them a hard time about bringing pre-printed postage to the window, saying it wastes their staff's time, costs the post office money (presumably on the theory that pre-printed postage is discounted because it reduces the burden on post office staff), etc.
posted by pullayup at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's probably just a coincidence, but I've found the post office to be dramatically less reliable for Priority Mail over the past 3-4 months. I've had many packages disappear for weeks at a time showing just "shipping label created." I've stopped trusting them for anything important.
posted by primethyme at 3:37 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your mail carrier is either stealing your packages or deciding they're too much trouble to deal with and chucking them somewhere. Go to the office.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:02 PM on March 23, 2015

I'd start taking pictures of the postal worker holding the boxes with the tracking numbers clearly visible "for insurance purposes".
posted by zengargoyle at 4:03 PM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

This is just one story I turned up after googling "mail carrier throws away mail." Here's another one from my area. Your mail carrier might not be stealing the packages - she might just be tossing them away to save herself the trouble of mailing them. It happens.

Is it that much more expensive to use FedEx where you live? I pretty much use FedEx or UPS these days - I have a wonderful package delivery/photocopy shop near me with terrific employees, and even though UPS costs a bit more than USPS package delivery, it saves me untold hassle (and my local post office isn't even that bad!).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:09 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Many (all?) UPS Stores now serve as USPS pick-up locations. Is there one convenient to you that you could drop off your Click-N-Ship packages? You get a UPS receipt when you drop off the package so at least you would have an acknowledgement that UPS held the package for the Postal Service.
posted by plastic_animals at 4:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Many USPS offices have a drop-off area for click and ship packages. You won't get a receipt for them, but you probably don't have to wait in the line and can just hand the package over.

They will only scan your package into the system if you stand in line and ask them to scan it in. The carrier supervisor told me that until they scan it into the system, it is not in USPS custody no matter where it physically is (in the post office, in a carrier's hands, in the back of their rig).

The carrier supervisor specifically told me that if you drop off the click-and-ship packages without standing in line that I run the same risks as carrier pickup.

've even seen the supervisors give them a hard time about bringing pre-printed postage to the window

This also happens in my post office. My husband is less confrontational than I am and has been turned away almost every time he's tried to drop off a click and ship box. I wasn't exaggerating when I described my post office as hell's anteroom.
posted by arnicae at 4:29 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time in the early 00s, I lived in an affluent suburb of Seattle where I had a pretty serious problem with my mail carrier.

Every once in a while I observed that I'd get a "second notice" for a bill I didn't remember receiving a first notice for, and sometimes I had an inkling that I was missing other mail, but it took me a while to realize just how much of my mail was going missing. Two things wound up convincing me I had a serious issue.. the first was a magazine gift subscription my mother sent me; I didn't want it and so after I received an issue I called the publisher to ask whether I could cancel the gift subscription or have it credited to my mother's subscription. I discovered during that conversation that the subscription had been started 4 months previously but I'd only received one issue, which was a bit of a surprise. The real kicker was my tax refund check, however -- it disappeared without a trace and I had been rather counting on it. Eventually I was able to get it reissued several months later but that was the last straw for me.

So.. I went down to the area post office. Asked to speak with the local postmaster. Told him that I believed I was missing mail and explained my reasons for thinking so. He assured me that he would look into the matter and get to the bottom of it, then turned to walk back into the back office.

I said: "I'm sorry to have to say this, but I believe you're lying to me."

The postmaster turned around and said: "Why would you say a thing like that?"

I replied: "Because you never asked either of the things that would be most useful to know if you were really planning to investigate. You don't know my name or my address."

I still can't say whether the postmaster was just uninterested in pursuing complaints or whether (as I have long suspected) they knew they had a problem carrier but were either unwilling or unable to do anything about that person but the results were more or less the same. I moved not long thereafter so I never did achieve any sort of resolution, but I live now in a small town where my mail carriers are as wonderful as the Seattle-suburb carriers were terrible. (The carriers I have now will climb three and a half flights of stairs from the street to reach my front door to deliver a package and will leave the parcel inside my door for me if I'm not home, so that it doesn't get rained on. They're seriously awesome.)

Sometimes you get a bad carrier and/or a bad post office. You can (and should) complain about it through official channels -- if they're stealing or dumping your mail it's very likely there are other victims as well -- but it's still wise to avoid them now that you're aware of the problem. Take your packages to a third-party shipping store if you have to, or take them to the post office if you can stand to do so, but don't just hand them to the carrier when you know that's a recipe for problems.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:17 PM on March 23, 2015 [12 favorites]

I'm in midtown Atlanta as well, and I feel your pain. The mail carrier at our house loses items and says they have delivered them - amazon packages, etc etc. I try to have as much delivered at work as possible.

Is it possible to have the packages mailed from your place of work? You can request a pick up that way, through the click and ship.

I have also noticed, through the click and ship, that if you are going to drop it off, they have an option for printing an additional form for them to scan in. This may help.

I have found no good solution - you could try asking your chosen post office if there are times that are typically slower to come, or you could switch to UPS/Fedex. I typically just resign myself to a long wait in line and bring a book, if I have to mail something.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:03 PM on March 23, 2015

This very thing happened to my daughter, who does a lot of E bay selling. She had to refund something to a buyer that was $150.00 because it was never scanned so there was no record of it in the USPS system. She loves her mailman, and is certain that this was an accident on his part - the lost package was one of four from the same day, and the other three were scanned. It probably dropped off his hand truck, she guessed. Anyway, because it was not scanned there is absolutely no recourse for her to put in a claim.

However, if she drops off packages at the post office they are scanned without fail, and she never stands in line. She has little kids and was just trying to make things easier for herself. I can't say whether your postal carrier is taking your stuff, but once a package gets to the post office it does seem to get into the system.
posted by citygirl at 6:06 PM on March 23, 2015

so this won't be a popular answer, but: I was raised in the belief that nothing mission critical goes in the informal "mail carrier will pick this up and send out" system -- that the mail carrier comes to deliver mail, and may or may not also take the outgoing mail, and that it is on me to find a post office box or take my stuff to the post office. It's not a convenient way to live, but it avoids this problem.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Don't contact the Post Office. Contact the United States Postal Inspection Service. Call your local field office. I advise calling, faxing or writing a letter. Works better with law enforcement.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:30 PM on March 23, 2015 [17 favorites]

Sometimes UPS offices will act as a pickup station for USPS. I have had luck with that as well as finding a local "postal station" type of business that does shipping in general. Generally a family-run business will want to protect their reputation and see that your mail gets scanned. If they are especially great, they will advise you as to the best price, too.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:54 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I called the 800 number for USPS and after a 5-10 minute wait on hold and several tiers of phone options got a friendly, personable fellow who patiently listened to my story of woe and wrote up a description of my issue (and read it back to me for my review), including all four tracking numbers.

He said the issue was significant enough that he wasn't going to bother sending it to the local office for them to handle, but that he was going to immediately elevate it to consumer affairs who would be investigating.

He said "I can't promise we'll find your packages, but I can guarantee this will cause a number of people in that post office to freak out a little in the next two weeks." He also opined that Mr. Arnicae, in his opinion, is likely accurate "Sounds like mail theft to me. You'd think they'd be smarter than that, but it happens, it does!"

Thanks for all the advice people. Fingers crossed. I'd particularly like to retrieve the bday gifts, one was homemade and took me several months to create. :(
posted by arnicae at 8:15 PM on March 23, 2015 [30 favorites]

Have you tried filing a police report? It might help for you to get the paperwork and then discuss it with your mail carrier to have them "help" you fill it out.
posted by 3491again at 8:49 PM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you've found the solution, but I just want to add, as someone who ships quite a lot for Etsy, that my postal carrier scans things right on my porch. They carry the scanners right with them, and there is no earthly reason that s/he cannot do it right in front of you. So, if you need to ship from home again, perhaps say explicitly "hey, I've had some stuff go missing, can you please scan this right now?"
posted by anastasiav at 7:58 AM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

For future shipments, you could use an Automated Postal Center if you have any nearby. Some of POs near me have lobbies open on Sundays so you can get to a PO box and use the APC. When I use one, there is always a box nearby that can handle larger packages. Since it doesn't have stamps, you can put it in any blue box once you buy APC postage.
posted by soelo at 10:53 AM on March 24, 2015

You should try going to the post office that dispatches your carrier and see if they can locate the package. I had a package go missing for 3 months, made numerous calls and noone could say where it was, went in person adn insisted they look on their undeliverable area and lo and behold there's my package, sitting there, correct address adn postage in all. I think things just end up in the junkyard sometimes for no good reason.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:42 AM on March 24, 2015

When I had a major issue with my carrier I would up with someone at USPS Customer Affairs who was helpful and spoke plain english her name is Brenda Sykes and her number is (323) 586-1250. that is the the great LA area, but she should be able to help you at least find someone to talk to about the issues.
posted by silsurf at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2015

The carrier supervisor specifically told me that if you drop off the click-and-ship packages without standing in line that I run the same risks as carrier pickup.

Well, officially, sure.

But your packages were going out fine until you got the new carrier. Maybe if you drop them off at the post office you'll be back to running the same risks as you had with the previous carrier, instead of the new level of missing/stolen packages you are getting with the new carrier.
posted by yohko at 12:37 PM on March 24, 2015

I'm not sure of the specifics in your town, but in my town there is a HallMark store that has a USPS inside it. There might be something like that, where it's not a full post office, but it functions as one. If it's possible, you could also make a trip to a nearby smaller town/suburb and mail from there--smaller offices tend to be less busy and the workers less disgruntled. I mail about 10 packages a month for eBay stuff, and this works really well for me.

Another option (if possible) is that some large companies have an internal post office inside them--my company allows us to package and mail items from their mailroom as a courtesy. Do you have a friend or family member with this perk?
Also, Kinko's copy store has FedEx in it, so if you do switch, you can mail from there too. :)
posted by CustomoftheCountry at 12:49 PM on June 26, 2015

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