I want my snail mail!
October 6, 2007 5:59 AM   Subscribe

How can I get the USPS to consistently deliver my mail to my home? I have been randomly missing important letters for at least two years. I've contacted numerous people at the USPS, but it's done no good.

I have lived in my home for many years. Mail service had been as reliable as anywhere else, but a few years back, I started getting other people's mail several times a week. More importanty, I found that I was not getting all the mail people were sending to me. Many of those I noticed were missing were financial documents with information that would let others easily steal my identity, so it's important to me to get this fixed.

The problem may be the carrier, but it's not limited to a single carrier, as I've had at least three since this began. I have since phoned and/or written at least ten people at the USPS, locally and regionally, all of whom said they'd fix the problem, but none who have.

The USPS is immune from lawsuits about home delivery, otherwise I'd have a good case. Barring that, what can I do to get them to finally take the problem seriously?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Make sure you document all the mail that is being lost.

I'd contact the Postal Inspection Service and tell them there is a pattern of financial documents not being delivered to your address. If they start investigating it will probably be taken seriously.
posted by grouse at 6:13 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there something about your mailbox or slot that doesn't meet their standards? Is the house numbered clearly? Is the box or slot in an awkward or hidden place? If a carrier can't reach the box safely/easily or they require a locked mailbox or your front walk hasn't been cleared of snow or what not they won't deliver. (I'm getting a script error on the USPS site but the guidelines may be here.)

Since there have been three carriers in your neighbourhood since you lived there, the only common factor seems to be you.

If you can't figure it out, rent a mailbox.

I get all of my bills delivered online now. So much less wasted paper to deal with/sort/file/keep track of. There must be services like this in the US.
posted by loiseau at 6:26 AM on October 6, 2007

it may not be the mail carrier, but the sorter. call your local post office--they are the only ones who can take care of that.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:30 AM on October 6, 2007

Many of those I noticed were missing were financial documents with information that would let others easily steal my identity...
Are these missing letters consistently from the same senders? If so, it may be their problem, and not the USPS. Perhaps something as simple as putting the incorrect zip-code on your address. Or the wrong last four digits in the zip+4 code.

The routing of mail through the system and into the carrier's bag/box/truck is highly automated. Any glitches on the address can easily result in an incorrect routing.

As I said, if it's consistently mail from the same source(s), it's very likely a problem on their end.

Alternately...do you know where the mail goes when it doesn't arrive in your mailbox? Is it being routed to a different house with a similar address? We quite often get mail meant for another house in the neighborhood. They share our house number and their street name is very similar to our street name. Have any developments gone up in your area recently that might have created such an issue?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:07 AM on October 6, 2007

I have had the same issue, ever since I moved in to this house. I have missed tax documents, formal invitations, numerous bills, everything. It really, really sucks. I have spoken with managers at the local post office, I've gone to the regional postmaster general, and I've opened a case with the national level. Nothing has changed with them. So, I have taken steps to get as much of my correspondence delivered electronically. Luckily, this is getting easier with tax docs, but still not perfect.

Going to a PO box would mean that I am going to another town. It seems really crappy that they can't be arsed to do their job very well, so I have to pay for a "hosted" mailbox, which also requires me to go out of my way to pick things up. Someone else has already paid for delivery of postal mail, it should show up to the proper place, within reasonable time. As you may guess, this issue has pissed me off quite a lot over the years.
posted by kellyblah at 7:15 AM on October 6, 2007

Are you sure they're not delivering it? If you have a house - and I'm guessing, from the "home" description - with a mailbox outside, there's a good chance it's getting stolen.

I'm surprised that no one's mentioned this -- mail is a lucrative and frequent target of thieves, and they don't always take everything but instead grab the good-looking stuff, leave the junk, and move on. It's why a lot of decent neighborhoods have those awful block-looking locking mailbox clusters.

If that's the case, you may find pursuing that avenue of investigation will yield much better results.
posted by dmz at 9:05 AM on October 6, 2007

When I moved into my new house, I kept getting the occasional piece of mail for the previous residents even though they had filed for their mail to be forwarded. I went to the post office and spoke to the gentleman who was the manager of the mail carriers. He apologized & it hasn't occurred again. It might be worth a shot to physically go to the post office & speak to the manager.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 9:13 AM on October 6, 2007

After moving into a new home, I also losing considerable amounts of mail. Some of it was getting delivered months (!!) late. It turns out that my address wasn't in the big USPS master database, and therefore when companies verified my address through this master database, it changed into the wrong address. Mail processing is considerably more complicated than you'd expect.

The address you have on file with companies always goes through some kind of database to eliminate errors. Some companies use the master USPS database; some other companies have their own database and get regular updates, which means that their databases lag behind that of the master one. Try the USPS database and see if small, seemingly inconsequential differences in your address change into the completely different address. If so, you have to make sure you're address matches exactly. I had to get a PO box because no matter how many times I called the company to change "Street" to "Avenue", the mail would go to Street, the wrong one. Customer service people would exclaim "Oh, it changed by itself!" and I would groan.

On preview, dmz's hypothesis of theft seems more likely. Get a locking mailbox?
posted by meowzilla at 10:54 AM on October 6, 2007

Have you gone to the local post office -- the one where your mail is actually sorted -- and talked to the Postmaster in person? If you come in and ask for them, giving them a face to match your name may produce more results than letters will.

Opening a case with the Postal Inspectors about the financial documents also sounds like a good idea. But I tend to think that someone is stealing your mail out of your box, rather than in the mail system.

If you go in and talk to the Postmaster, you should also be able to talk about locking boxes; make sure you get one that meets their standards. At least if you get one of those, you'll have eliminated one avenue of attack, and it'll be harder for the USPS to deny that they're the problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:06 PM on October 6, 2007

The responses above regarding standardized databases are quite valid, but, as a 23-year-seniority USPS Letter Carrier, I must say that misdelivery of mail is very symptomatic of the state of the Postal (dis)Service. When I began my career, Customer Service was a top priority - after all, our mission was to accurately and quickly get the mail from sender to recipient. Today, however, everything is subservient to the almighty Bottom Line. We are instructed to have all our mail sorted (about 30% of our mail still comes to us unsorted) and be out of the office by a time mechanically determined by volume of mail and standardized workspeed. We are ordered to be finished with our route by a predetermined time. We are disciplined if we do not consistently meet work standards. This does not leave much time to individually check each piece of pre-sorted mail to ensure the automation has done its job correctly, as well as that we have done ours accurately, too.

In addition, the USPS is hiring contract workers to deliver mail, especially on new routes. These are not career employees, but rather lowest bidders who meet minimum standards to deliver the mail.

I don't have a solution for the OP, but I would ask that he/she look at the bottom of a misdelivered letter. If there is a sprayed-on barcode AND a sprayed-on ZIP+4, the letter was missorted by the automated machinery. These letters come to us already sequenced in trays and we are not allowed to examine them for mistakes until we leave the station. If no sprayed-on ZIP+4 exists, the letter was probably sorted by the Letter Carrier.

Granted, the carrier SHOULD check each letter for accuracy, but more frequently, we'll riff through until we reach the last letter for a given address and hope all between are correct. As in so many other fields of business, time takes priority over the human element. BTW, you may notice your mailman scanning a barcode inside a mailbox. This is to let Management know where we are at nearly any given moment.

I realize that this reads as a long apologia for the Postal Service, but au contraire. The current state of the USPS is poor. We employees, at least those of us who give a damn, do the best we can within the system. But I'm afraid the quality of service will diminish until all mail service is finally privatized and Universal Delivery (the fact that your Aunt Mildred in Podunk gets the same level of service as Steve Jobs) will come to an end.
posted by MiamiDave at 12:44 PM on October 6, 2007 [6 favorites]

MiamiDave's answer certainly explains why the quality of mail delivery service in my neighborhood has gone from "great" to "merely adequate and often pretty bad" in just over a decade.

As far as the OP's question, I wish I could give you an answer. We've had some similar problems with mail being misdelivered, and also problems with mail for people who haven't lived in our house for more than a decade. (IRS mail. And we've contacted both the IRS and the USPS to tell them this person isn't here anymore and we don't even know if she ever was, and stop sending us her delinquency notices -- but they keep coming. At least, I assume they are delinquency notices, because we keep getting tax attorney ads directed at her as well.) It just seems that the carriers don't look at the mailpieces any more, and it is very frustrating.
posted by litlnemo at 3:43 PM on October 6, 2007

I can relate to your frustration. I have only received mail for 2 weeks of the past 2 months. I was advised to fill out one of those change of address forms. Put the correct address in the left (or whatever is "former") entry, and then write "CANCEL FORWARD" in the other entry. Even though I have lived here for 3 years and never forwarded my mail. Whatever, worth a shot.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:51 PM on October 6, 2007

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