Damaged Goods and Postal Insurance

Some people may think our United States Post Office is one of the best Postal Services in the world. However I'm beginning to have my doubts.

Over the past 16 months I've been involved in over 100 different shipments of tapes. Meaning tapes I either received, or boxes of tapes I sent to our reviewers, or they sent back to me. Out of all those shipments, I've had some strange things happen.

One of the earlier shipments, about 12 months ago, was from a company called "Okinawan Adventures". They sent me some tapes, and along with those tapes, a free personal protection baton they make, that you stick on your key chain. Well guess what? The baton didn't make it. The envelope all this was sent in, somehow mysteriously tore open, about an inch, and guess what slipped out?

I wrote them to let them know what happened, and surprisingly they sent another baton. A few days later an envelope arrives from them. Guess what? Torn in the corner again, with nothing in the envelope.

And there have been other items that were either lost of damaged in the mail. Damage seems to be more common than loss. I can't tell you how many tapes I've received, that I've had to take apart the case they came, and put them in another case. I've probably had to do that to at least a dozen tapes. Meaning, at least a dozen tapes have shown up damaged, with part of the case they came in broken. I'm not talking about the outer case/sleeve you slide tapes into. I'm talking about the 2 black plastic case halves, usually held together by 4 or 5 screws, that house the 2 tape spindles with the VHS film on them for each video. Taking this apart, removing the spindles, and putting them in a new case is pretty easy. But still, when you have to do it, you end up losing or being out a blank tape.

Anyway, what's even more surprising is the amount of force it takes to break this plastic housing that holds these spindles. Because this was happening about 1 out of every 10 shipments, I decided to one day see what it took to break a blank tape. So one day I opened a new blank video, and started dropping it on the ground inside my house (hardwood floors). I dropped it from different heights a few times, on our hardwood floors, and nothing happened. I took it outside, on my front steps, and dropped it on concrete. Guess what? It broke in several pieces.

So what did I learn from this? Well it's probably pretty tough to break one of these, by dropping it, inside your house, but on concrete, very easy. Which got me to thinking. Do you know what the floor is made of in most Post Offices? Yeah, concrete!

But the story gets even more interesting. Every tape that was ever broken came in a paper box/sleeve. Never have I received a broken tape that comes in one of those plastic protective boxes. You know, the kind the video stores put your rentals in. So now I understand why those silly plastic boxes or so important!

So far we've discussed damaged tapes and given you a good idea of how to fix them. Now let's discuss lost tapes and postal insurance.

Out of over 100 tape shipments I've been involved in, only one turned out really bad. One of our reviewers, "CJ", was sending me a box of about 40 tapes. Roughly 20 were his, that he wanted me to review, and about 20 were mine, that I'd sent him to review. We do this so we both get to see a bunch of different tapes, and by doing this, I believe, the variety of tapes helps make us better reviewers. Anyway, to make a long story short, about 20 tapes didn't make it. The box of 40 tapes was very heavy, it was insured, and sent at 3rd or 4th class (book rate), to save on postage. I can't tell you how many times me and him had sent tapes to each other, and spent $20-$30 on postage and insurance. Well the box showed up, about 2 weeks late I might add, and when I went to pick it up at the Post Office, I couldn't believe the shape the box was in. It looked like a shark had bitten off one whole corner of the box. The Post Office had duct taped the corner back together. Anyway, I open the box at the Post Office, fearing the worst, and wanting a Postal Employee to witness the contents. Sure enough, about 20 tapes were missing.

I figure, well that's unfortunate, but heck, we've got insurance on it so no big loss. WRONG! In my opinion, I now feel postal insurance is one of the biggest scams going.

After I had opened the box I was directed by the Postal employee to take the box across the hall to the claims office. I go in there, tell them the story, and they have me fill several long, pain-in-the- ass forms. I was informed it could take 3-4 months to process my claim. 3-4 months! So if you ever loose anything in the mail, don't expect to get paid for it immediately. I always assumed that if you bought the insurance, they'd immediately hand you a check for the insured amount. WRONG! The first part of these SOB's scam is they can take 3-4 months to process your claim. They want the opportunity to do "a search" for your items, before they pay you. Second part of the scam is you might not get paid. What? Yeah, you might not get paid! If you don't have receipts, for all the items you insured (whose got receipts for 40 tapes?), your claim form is sent to a Postal Insurance Claim Adjustor. These peoples job is to figure out HOW LITTLE they can get away with paying you if you don't have receipts. The standard amount I was told by one Postal Administrative Official is pennies on the dollar. Well since all of my tapes had been sent to me for free, I had no receipts. And CJ, who had his tapes for years, had no receipts either. Therefore we were S.O.L. Neither one of us saw any money, or reimbursement, for our tapes from the Post Office.

Out of 100 shipments, over 300 tapes I've gotten for free now, losing 20 isn't that big a deal. But I really felt bad for CJ. He'd paid for his, and received nothing from the Post Office either. Personally I think some investigative reporting needs to be done about Postal Insurance, to expose their rip-off to the public.

I did learn some very important things out of this process, talking to different Postal Officials:

1. Don't ever ship anything valuable 3rd or 4th class. That box of 40 tapes was roughly worth $1200. We lost half of it, and we were out $600, even though we'd insured the box for $2000. 3rd and 4th class mail gets put in huge containers, with lots of boxes in each container. These containers can weigh 1000's of pounds. Quite often boxes at the bottom of the containers get crushed by heavier boxes placed on top of them. The box can bust open, and when this happens, your items can get lost among hundreds of boxes. Also, 3rd and 4th dclass mail is routed through Bulk Mail Centers. These bulk mail centers, I was told, have miles of conveyor belts going through them, that can be 20-50 feet off the ground in different spots. At times boxes fall 20-50 feet off these conveyor belts, and not only break open, but the fall can destroy the contents in the box.

2. The safest way to ship tapes is 1st class, or Priority. And the absolute safest way is to ship it "Registered" mail. However, this requires that the box they are in be wrapped in brown shipping paper, and sealed with brown paper (not plastic) shipping tape. Shipments that go "registered" I'm told are shipped under lock and key. This is relatively inexpensive, however many people don't do it because they don't have brown paper and brown tape.

3. Don't ever send out HUGE boxes of tapes. Send smaller quantities, 10-20 tapes. The heavier the box is, the more suseptible it is to damage, and breaking open. I've yet to have a "loss", due to a box breaking open, when the shipment was under 20 tapes.

4. If you're ever going to insure ANY kind of package at the Post Office, think twice about doing so, especially if you don't have a receipt. Without a receipt the monetary value of your loss will be determined by Insurance Adjustors. And it appears their job is to pay one as little as possible. I was even told that they will depreciate the value of your item depending on it's age too. So if your Uncle Joe sends you a 19" color TV he bought 5 yrs ago for $350, even if Uncle Joe insures it for $350, and still has the receipt, the Postal Insurance Adjustor can decide that because the TV is 5 yrs old, it's only now worth $150. And guess what? That's the amount he gets. Even if Uncle Joe insured it for $350!

Moral of this story: Think seriously about insuring, especially if you don't have a receipt? And if you do have a receipt, only insure your items for what you think you could buy them for, on the used market today! More than likely that's the only amount you'll ever see from the Post Office, if you're lucky. And if you insure for more than that, there's a very good chance that the majority of the public is literally throwing their money away! Just think, if I'm going to pay you what you insure an item for, and what you think it's worth, why in the world do I need claims adjustors?

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