The United States Postal Service offers two services which document that a letter has been placed in the mail at a certain place on a certain date; Certified Mail and a Certificate of Mailing.
The USPS defines Certified Mail as: A Special Service that provides the sender with a mailing receipt and, upon request, electronic verification that an article was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made. A fee is charged for the service in addition to postage. Customers can retrieve the delivery status at usps.com; through a 1-800 telephone number; or by bulk electronic file transfer for mailers who provide an electronic manifest to USPS. No insurance coverage is provided with the service. USPS maintains a record of delivery (which includes the recipient's signature) for a specified period of time.
The mailer may deposit properly prepared Certified Mail letters in any authorized mail receptacle without presenting the letter to a USPS employee for examination and verification.
Each Certified Mail receipt form (PS Form 3800) has a barcode which pertains to that unique receipt. Services such as Stamps.com allow the mailer to prepare Certified letters on their printer. This process also provides a unique Certified Letter number and bar code.
During mail processing operations, when this barcode is first read by USPS scanners, the return address and addressee of the Certified Mail letter are recorded in the USPS Automated Tracking System.
The Automated Tracking System provides a record of where the particular Certified Mail letter is each time it moves through the mail stream. The system also provides a facsimile of the signature of the person who signs for the letter when it is received.
If the Certified mail letter is not delivered for any reason (unclaimed, refused, no forwarding address on file, deceased, etc.), the Automated Tracking System provides information as to each place the letter has traveled and, if returned to sender, the reason the Certified Mail letter is being returned. If the Certified Mail letter is forwarded to a new address, the Automated Tracking System provides that information too. Records of delivery or return of Certified Mail items are retained by the USPS for two years. These records are available to the general public. The easiest way to trace a Certified Mail letter is to go to the USPS website and enter the Certified Mail number in the Track and Confirm section. If the Certified Mail letter was delivered, a facsimile of the signed receipt will be available online.
Since neither the sender nor the addressee can alter the USPS Automated Tracking records, those records cannot be manipulated by a party in interest who might claim receipt or non-receipt for their own interests.
The USPS defines a Certificate of Mailing as: A Special Service that provides evidence that mail was presented to USPS for mailing. Certificate of Mailing service does not provide a record of delivery.
The form must be presented to a USPS employee for examination at the time the letter is placed in the mail. The USPS employee examines the form, assures that proper fees are paid (at this writing, $1.40 for one letter, $8.25 for six to 1000 letters; and $1.03 per each additional 1000 letters).
Unlike other special services where the amount paid for both postage and related fees is placed on the individual letter, with a Certificate of Mailing the postage for the appropriate fees is affixed to the Certificate of Mailing form, the USPS employee stamps the form with an official stamp which indicates the location and date the letter(s) was mailed.
The USPS employee returns the validated receipt to the mailer. Unlike other Special Services, the USPS does not maintain a copy of the Certificate of Mailing. The USPS does not track these letters through the mail stream. The USPS does not verify that the addresses on those letters are complete or accurate, nor does it keep a record of whether any of those letters were returned to sender.
A Certificate of Mailing is NOT proof that a letter was received by the addressee. Since the only record of the mailing is in the possession of a party of interest, the addressee cannot rely upon the business records of a disinterested third party (USPS) in contesting the receipt of such a letter.
Many mailers are aware of the defect inherent in this form of mailing documentation. The Internal Revenue Service, for instance, recognizes this problem .The IRS asserts that: "A Certificate of Mailing with a timely date is not as evidence to them that a letter was timely sent to the IRS." A Certificate of Mailing and a letter to the IRS both stamped at the same time on the same day at the same place may be considered proof.
Common uses of Certificates of Mailing include documentation that an article was mailed on a timely basis. Bulk advertising mailers, for instance, might request a Certificate of Mailing as evidence to their client that the requested number of advertisements were mailed on the requested mailing date; or a company submitting a competitive bid for a contract might obtain a Certificate of Mailing to establish the date that a bid was mailed in case the postmark might be illegible. In both of these hypothetical situations, the addressee must have the envelope and the sender must have the corresponding Certificate of Mailing.
The fee for mailing a Certified Letter is $3.45. That fee per letter is the same whether the mailer is sending one Certified Letter or 1,000 Certified Letters at the same time. The fee for mailing letters using a Certificate of Mailing is $1.40 for one letter, but only $8.25 for up to 1000 letters and additional $1.03 for every additional 1000 letters.
Therefore, it would cost a mailer $3,450.00 in fees to send 1,000 Certified Letters. To send 1, 000 letters under a single Certificate of Mailing would cost the same mailer $8.25 in fees.
The USPS is required by law to set costs which reflect their expenses for each service they provide. Each Certified Mail letter must be accounted for. Letters mailed under a Certificate of Mailing are subject to random verification. Each letter listed on Form 3665 doesn't have to be located and checked against the manifest. The vast difference in postage charged for Certified Mail versus a Certificate of Mailing reflects the assurance the U.S. Postal Service provides as to whether an article of mail was delivered.
Two USPS forms must be presented to the USPS when requesting a Certificate of Mailing: PS Form 3606-D "Certificate of Bulk Mailing -Domestic, and PS Form 3665 "Certificate of Mailing -Firm". Page one of Form 3606-D cautions the mailer: "This Certificate does not provide evidence that a particular piece was mailed to a particular address." Page two of form 3606-D clearly states: "Certificate of Bulk Mailing - Domestic service does not provide a record of delivery, and the Postal Service does not retain any copies of PS Form 3606-D. The mailer cannot use PS Form 3606-D as a certificate of mailing for individual mailpieces or itemized lists".
Additionally, there is a caution on page two of PS Form 3665, Certificate of Mailing - Firm: "The forms become the mailer's only receipt (the Postal service does not retain a copy)".
While the delivery status of every Certified Mail letter is recorded, the intensity of the verification of a group of letters listed on a Certificate of Mailing depends upon the individual mailer's history of preparing accurate documentation for mailings. With a mailer who mails at low volume on an infrequent basis, the verification can be as high as 10%, or 30, of 300 letters. For more frequent mailers of high volume the verification can be 100 of 100,000 letters mailed - or .001%. USPS instructions call for verifying as few as 1of 5 mailings per week for high volume mailers with a good accuracy history.
In 2014, the Postal Regulatory Commission commissioned marketing firm NuStats to conduct a "Household Diary Study". One area researched in the study was number of mail pieces received per household per week. A middle income family was found to receive 20 pieces of mail per week, or 60 pieces of mail per month.
The study further states that for households which receive 60 pieces of mail per month 12% of those households usually read their mail, 37% read some of their mail and 33% usually scan their mail. In other words, 18% of those households -or roughly one household in five- usually don't read their mail.
The use of Postal forms which clearly state that they do not provide a record of delivery by the USPS cannot serve as a postal record. The USPS has services which provide such proof of delivery, such as Certified Mail and Registered Mail.
Postal services are available which prove that a customer is aware that hundreds of thousands of dollars of their assets are about to be placed in jeopardy. A Certificate of Mailing is not one of those services.
Since a Certified Letter must be signed for by the addressee, only a purposeful decision not to read the contents of a letter they signed for would prevent the addressee from knowing that the company was in the process of cancelling their policy.
Peter Wade, was employed by the USPS for 32 years. He served in supervisory and administrative positions with the U S Postal Inspection Service in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and San Juan. He was also the Postmaster of San Juan PR and Field Division General Manager for the USPS Caribbean District responsible for providing postal services to 4 million customers and supervising 3000 USPS employees.
Mr. Wade has been a consultant and expert witness in postal related matters for 19 years. He has advised on numerous postal matters, including the merging of two independent postal services in Argentina. He has offered efficiency improvement and security advice to many business clients of the USPS. He has provided testimony in both civil and criminal proceedings in postal related litigation.
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