Can’t I trust the Postal Service? Part 3 – the service.

Finally, in this series on the USPS “Hold Mail” service, I’d like to address the service itself.

When you request to hold mail, you provide your name and the address of the mailbox whose mail you want to hold.

You read the text that says that you agree that you are authorised to hold mail for that address, and you press “Continue”.

If I were to submit that process as a technical standard for holding email, I would be refused inside of a minute.

Where’s the check?

The only check is that you’re not daring enough to submit the request on someone else’s mailbox. There’s some strength to this, because if you are found out, there’s the possibility of fines or jail time. But if it’s worth it to you to block mail to a recipient, you don’t need any level of sophistication to do so.

And if you’re the unfortunate recipient of this denial-of-service attack? You can remove the hold online or by phone – if you have the confirmation number that was given to you when you booked the hold. Ah, but you didn’t book the hold, so you don’t have the confirmation number; you have to visit your local post office with valid ID.

This is just great for an identity thief – if I steal your wallet, with all your identifying information, I can also stop you from receiving and verifying your credit card bill, at least until you can get some replacement identification. Aha – and how do you get replacement identification? You can visit the DMV for a new Driver’s Licence, but they will insist on mailing your identity to you. D’oh!

How can this be fixed?

Well, the hold mail service already requires 3 days of advance notice. Why not use those 3 days to send a little postcard to the address for which a hold is requested? Include a unique confirmation number on it, and ideally, don’t start holding mail until the recipient of that mail, the guy with the key to the mailbox, has positively responded, either online, by phone, or in person, that he does indeed want his mail held, by revealing the unique confirmation number.

How can you get this changed?

Write to your congressman, and your local postmaster.

But do be prepared to wait a little for a response – someone may have already put a hold on their mail.

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