Life Lesson

Chasing Lost Mail…what you can do!

Chasing lost mail _edited-1

Mailing carefully selected gifts or greeting cards with personal notes for delivery to those we care about is something most all of us do at some point during the year, especially during the holidays. Companies depend on mail services to conduct business from sending corporate documents to fulfilling customer online and phone ordering. Even though we may consider ourselves to be a “paperless” generation, USPS alone reports 2015 revenue of 68.8 billion with 154.2 billion of processed mail, which proves our dependence on a trustworthy mail service. Not all mail, however, reach intended destinations. This past December I personally heard about a number of mailed packages missing, even with tracking numbers. These lost parcels represent service through USPS, UPS and FedX. It didn’t matter which service carrier was used. Packages went missing. After doing an internet search, missing and lost mail appears to be more common than I thought.

In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the MRC received 88 million items and processed 12 million of those valued at $25 or more. It returned 2.5 million items to customers — a resolution rate of 21 percent of researched items, or 3 percent of total incoming items. Office of Inspector General 

Reading this post you might also be nodding your head “yes”, having experienced lost mail this past year, especially over the holidays. One of my packages mailed on December 8th become MIA when tracking stopped a few days later. The package was finally located January 5th and redirected to the Mail Recovery Center (MRC) in Atlanta, Georgia. MRC is the USPS lost and found center hoping to reunite package with intended recipient.  Tracking a lost package is frustrating especially when having to endure excruciating on holdfrustration-clipart-frustration-clipart-287x187 waiting time to speak with a customer service representative and the end result…hearing what you already know! This post explores how a package can get lost and what we can all do to minimize the risk of lost letters and packages through the mail system.

How did the letter/package get lost?

damaged-box shipping
After speaking with USPS 3 times (average hold time being 1 hour!) listed below are some common reasons parcels can get lost.

  • Damaged package by USPS machines or personnel and the label becomes illegible or separated from the package.
  • The parcel box wasn’t sturdy to handle travel.
  • Letter or parcel slipped behind USPS machinery.
  • Address error made it undeliverable.
  • Intended recipient moved without leaving a forwarding address.

Ideas to reduce the risk of lost mail? 

  • Double check recipient current address. Nine digit zip code search, Click Here.
  • Place a clearly instructed note in the package indicating sender and recipient name, address, and contact information. Placing the note inside a zip lock bag for extra protection would be ideal. If the package label is damaged, the information needed to redirect the package is provided should the box be unintentionally ripped open or opened by mail carrier personnel/inspectors.
  • Invest in a new box instead of reusing a box to be sure it is sturdy. Use packaging well boxed shipping box brown-027_2048x2048tape to be SURE the box (bottom and top) is well taped and secure, including all the corners. The tape should be flat and not protruding beyond any corners that might easily get caught in machinery.
  • If reusing a box, remove all previous labels and black out with a permanent marker any pre-existing bar codes that often are on the sides and bottom of a box.
  • BOLD PRINT in clear visible font the addresses (return and send to) and fully clear tape the labels on the parcel or use a bold marker and write addresses on the box itself, clearly. Place clear package tape over the handwritten SEND TO address and RETURN address. This water proofs the ink and may prevent the risk of paper tear, damaging the entire label.
  • If the value of the parcel is over $25, avoid ground shipment and consider sending priority mail, signature required or registered and insure the contents. The more paper tracking on your package the easier it will be to locate if lost.
  • All sensitive documents, monetary contents or special non – replaceable items, send overnight or two day, fully insured, signature required or registered mail. Avoid mailing cash.
  • Follow the tracking of your parcel and if, after a few days, you don’t receive a tracking status update, contact your local carrier immediately.

What to do if your parcel is indeed lost?

  • Create an online account through the carrier of your lost parcel be it USPS, FEDX or UPS, or other carrier, if you haven’t already done so.
  • File an online missing mail claim through “search request” then contact your local mail carrier service by phone or in person for next steps they would recommend. Below are hyperlinked carrier online resources. When a search request claim is made and also when you connect with your local post office, ask for update notifications through text and email.


  • If the package has been routed to USPS Mail Recovery Center, it will join many other parcels deemed “dead mail” because the sender and recipient address information has been destroyed. How could the tracking number be in tact and yet the address label missing? Good question and no one I spoke with could give me an answer. It has been over 10 days since my package was routed to MRC and although I check tracking status daily, receipt at MRC has yet to be confirmed. Once checked in at MRC, it is my understanding it will be inspected by a qualified USPS inspector who will login the tracking number and at that time my missing package claim will meet with my lost package. The inspector will then match content description to what is in the box. If the descriptions match, they will follow the mailing instruction on the missing package claim and forward the box. This process could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, or longer.

Can parcels be a victim of carrier theft?

Yes, although not a significant factor in lost parcels at USPS. When there is suspicion of theft by USPS personnel they are, apparently, quickly discovered and criminal charges are filed. According to the USPS Office of Inspector Attorney General

It is the job of OIG special agents to identify dishonest employees and take proper investigative steps to have them prosecuted and removed from the Postal Service. During the reporting period from October 2014 through September 2015, OIG special agents conducted 1,607 internal mail theft investigations, resulting in 493 arrests, 1,220 administrative actions, and approximately $478,000 in monetary benefit for the Postal Service.

The risk of mail delivery mishaps still exists even with modern technology increasing the efficiency of postal operations. Moving forward the question I ask myself as I get ready to ship another package…”What can I do differently to reduce the risk of a lost package?” Following suggested ideas noted above is on my TO DO LIST before I head to the post office. My hope is that the US Postal Service and all mail carrier services will also strive to continuously improve internal operations. Regardless of how paperless we become, we will always need to depend on mail delivery services.


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