Does the headline have any purpose?
March 27, 2007 4:20 AM   Subscribe

The USPS charges for shipments based on package size and weight and in the case of media mail- the contents. Once your package clears the counter, is it safe to say it won't be checked for compliance of these things beyond that point?

Okay, I do a lot of shipping via USPS and I pre-pay all the time meaning I go online and enter the details myself and then print out a label.
I thought about this last night when I was packaging up some vinyl records to go out via media mail. When I bring my packages to the post office, they typically just take them and put them in the back when I tell them they're already paid for. They don't weight it or in the case of media mail check the contents. If I was going to pay for it at the counter they'd have weighed it and measured it there and then.

I'm wondering what the risk is for this package coming back to me after I've dropped it off if my measurements or weights are off. Do they bother to check a package once its in the big pile?
posted by Thrillhouse to Work & Money (19 answers total)
I bet they don't check it to see if you are lying (if they did, they'd do it at the desk), but I bet you don't want to lie anyway. Different types of packages go through different routes of machinery. If you've got the weight or size way off, it may be misrouted or mangled.
posted by DU at 4:33 AM on March 27, 2007

I have heard that they randomly open packages to check for compliance, but none of my packages have ever shown evidence of that, and I do a fair amount of sending/receiving media mail - but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Found this at the eBay Wiki (emphasis mine):
"USPS is randomly checking packages at the window and in the mailstream for compliance with the requirements. If a package is found to be short paid because it should not have been sent by the Media Mail rate, your buyer will have to pay postage due."
posted by susiepie at 4:36 AM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have had packages come back for having the weight or measurements incorrect after they are in the big pile, yes. Not for the contents, because I don't use Media Mail unless the contents qualify. I haven't had a package arrive to the customer with postage due -- they have always bounced back to me instead. But I have gotten a package or two with postage due, sent to me.
posted by litlnemo at 4:45 AM on March 27, 2007

My understanding is that it get weighed anyway, somewhere down the chain, as part of the sorting process. But, I could be wrong about that...
posted by yeoz at 4:48 AM on March 27, 2007

To answer your first question:
Yes. Some people (myself included) read just the headline and skip reading the rest of the question if the headline wasn't at least somewhat indicitave of what you're asking. ;)

And to answer your second question (ok fine, I read it anyway):
When your package reaches the sorting facility, I'm almost certain they weigh the packages and will reject any that aren't properly paid for. I don't, however, think they inspect the contents of media mail.

posted by tipthepizzaguy at 5:09 AM on March 27, 2007

I've had packages (shipped media mail) both returned to me and delivered with a postage due notice. Someone's checking.
posted by sonofslim at 5:22 AM on March 27, 2007

I had a package shipped to Hawaii from Michigan be opened for content verification. It took almost 40 days to reach it's destination even though it was within the Media Mail guidelines, so it does happen occasionally.
posted by blackkar at 5:23 AM on March 27, 2007

Having worked with USPS,

Yes. It will be checked, most likely. Everything that goes gets put through automatic weighing machines and scanned for postage. In some cases, they are randomly X-Rayed (especially if they are going to sensitive areas). The scale at the window is just to make sure if they charge you the right amount. I cannot tell you the amount of mail I have to send back because the prepaid postage is incorrect.

This is not the say that you don't occassionally get more than your fair share of packages that aren't automatically weighed for whatever reason, but I'd say its likely that they will be.

And if its that important, I'll tell you what I tell people thirty times a day: send it certified mail. It only costs $2.40 and you get a tracking number. If you ever call USPS about a package or letter and you don't have a tracking number, they will laugh at you. Plus you can check on its status from your computer.
posted by mr_book at 5:39 AM on March 27, 2007

Yeah dude, the headline is what people see when they read AskMe via RSS.

Uh, don't know about the other thing.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:56 AM on March 27, 2007

I didn't think about RSS! Thanks for clearing that one up Happy Dave.

As for the postage thing. Thank you for clearing that up, everyone.
posted by Thrillhouse at 6:08 AM on March 27, 2007

They do check. I got a postage due card on a book I got a few days ago, because my mom had enclosed a newspaper review of the book, and sent it media mail.
posted by mazienh at 7:53 AM on March 27, 2007

Also the guy at the counter has a good idea how much postage should be attached to any given size/mass package. Get out of his personal estimating error range and I'd bet the package would get extra scrutiny.
posted by Mitheral at 9:07 AM on March 27, 2007

I shipped a padded envelope with a Swiss Army knife, some wire cutters, a needlenose pliers, and a few other things I needed to get across country but couldn't take on a plane with me.

It arrived 12 weeks later with a sticker on it saying the contents had been xrayed and deemed unsuitable for going on the USPS cargo plane so it had been rerouted by ground. So clearly they check.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:15 AM on March 27, 2007

Why would you use USPS when UPS DHL and FedEx give you less hassle and track your product for you automatically?
posted by Megafly at 11:45 AM on March 27, 2007

Why use USPS? There's postoffices everywhere and they often have reasonable hours, and self-service options after hours. In my area, the parking is way better. Sometimes it's cheaper.
posted by theora55 at 12:26 PM on March 27, 2007

The headline also shows up in the URL.

I'm going to have to go with "if they didn't check, people would gradually learn to abuse it."
posted by qvtqht at 1:14 PM on March 27, 2007

I got a media mail package with an "opened at blah post office" stamp on it, once. It was a fairly large and heavy package, though (but, entirely books!). I've also gotten lots of media mail packages without that, though.

And, what the heck? Postage due for a newspaper clipping along with the book? O_o
posted by Many bubbles at 10:11 PM on March 27, 2007

Megafly writes "Why would you use USPS when UPS DHL and FedEx give you less hassle and track your product for you automatically?"

Brokerage for packages coming from the states to Canada is $5 for USPS and upwards of $75 for UPS/FedEx.
posted by Mitheral at 10:23 PM on March 27, 2007

I once sent a huge box of my junk home to Utah from Milwaukee media rate. There were books in there, for the record, but there was also a bowling ball, a boom box, some clothing, photos, and lots of other crap that I collected in the two years that I lived in Wisconsin.

The box was just barely under the maximum size limit to ship, and it was just barely under the max weight as well. I think it was something like $50 back in late 1998.

Ah, the memories.

Anyway, everything got home just fine, no postage due, and no tampering of the tape or contents.
posted by SlyBevel at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2007

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