USPS Doesn’t Notice That My Package Is Now 32 Lbs. Lighter — And No Longer Contains My Stuff

You place a certain amount of trust in a company when you hand over a box of your personal belongings to be shipped across the country. You also have to be aware of the risk that your package might get lost or damaged along the way. But what you can’t really prepare for is that only some of your stuff will arrive… in a different box… with someone else’s stuff mixed in.

Consumerist reader Jill was getting ready to head home to Wisconsin from her junior year in college in Arkansas, so she packed up 37 lbs. worth of books and other items into a box that was as 12x11x16 and sent it off via the trusty U.S. Postal Service, figuring it would arrive around the same time as she did.

Several weeks and no parcel later, Jill filled out the missing package form on the USPS website. She never received the acknowledgment letter the site promised, but a box did show up at her house shortly thereafter.

But it wasn’t her box. It had her address written on it. Actually, “scrawled” is how she describes the handwriting.

And stamped on the box in red ink was the notice:

More worrying was the fact that the contents of this different, much larger box only seemed to weigh about 5 lbs., significantly less than what Jill had shipped.

Writes Jill:

The first thing I took out of the box was my TI-83 calculator. Oh, wait. No, my TI-83 has a penguin sticker on the front from Mrs. Gleason’s geometry class, and my name and 7th grade ID number scratched in the back. Sadly, no name on this one. Next, undies. New ones (thankfully!) from Macy’s, tag still on. Not mine! A bra. Lacy beige. Not mine. A lace doily that smells faintly of old lady. Not mine. Pants. Soccer jersey. Neither of them mine. I did get some sheet music back, and two novels I don’t care much for, as well as a folder containing financial aid info. I can’t decide whether or not it’s a good thing I got that folder back; on the one hand, identity theft, but on the other, the person with my stuff could have found me.

It doesn’t seem like they tried at all to get my stuff to me. They knew my box weighed 37lbs, and they knew its contents fit into a 12 x 11 x 16 space. I also sent it via media mail. So, you know, send me books, right? I get the impression, also, that this is not an uncommon occurrence. In that case, shouldn’t they have a website where I can report what I have and what I’m missing? Shouldn’t they know who else’s stuff was broken at the same time, so we can find each other and our own stuff better? The least of the least they could do is refund my shipping.

Jill insists that she did a thorough job of taping her package shut and that she packed her items so there would be no shifting around during transit.

“In the future, I’ll be either using UPS (or maybe not, based on this), triple-taping (I already double-tape), or putting return address labels on every freaking item I send,” she writes. “And I think I’ll avoid 37-pound boxes. The weight limit is 50 lbs, but apparently they can’t handle 37.”

If anyone out there is missing the items shown in the above photo, maybe Jill has your stuff. And maybe you have at least some of the 32 lbs. worth of books she shipped out more than a month ago.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

    37 Pounds? UPS would have probably been cheaper.

    • Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

      Not that I’m endorsing UPS or anything…. They lose my t-shirts all the time. But at least the claims process only takes 10 minutes of my time!

    • talaxlives says:

      UPS wouldn’t have been cheaper because the OP went for media mail… but…

      The OP is at fault here for one major thing:

      Using Media Mail.

      She mentioned she shipped a TI Calculator, that doesn’t qualify for media mail. And presumably she also shipped some clothes in it too (but am not sure).

      What most likely happened is that the USPS decided to open her package (they have the right to do so on Media Mail), to make sure it met all the requirmeents of media mail.

      It didn’t meet the requirements.

      That doesn’t excuse what they did to the package in any way, or how her package got mixed up with someone elses, but she shouldn’t have used media mail in the first place.

      What should have happened is that it would have gotten delivered (all 37 pounds of it), and she would have had to pay the extra postage required which probably owuld have been more than UPS after all.

    • hexx says:

      37 pounds via media mail is probably cheaper than UPS. Media Mail is 4th class mail (regular parcel post is 3rd class). It is very cheap, but meant only to send books, movies, music, etc.

    • rrot says:

      Media Mail?

      You know that there are strict limits on what types of items can be sent that way, don’t you?

      You are *asking* for your package to be opened when you use (and maybe in your case, abuse) Media Mail.

      Your stuff shouldn’t be lost or stolen as a punishment, but you really are just asking for trouble…

  2. ender2003 says:

    I have had bad luck sending items using Media Mail, the boxes or envelopes get opened in transit and always arrive empty at the other end. At least my original envelope made it through ok though…

    If they are inspecting the contents and find that they do not match what is allowed to be shipped as Media Mail, then shouldn’t they return the items to sender? If the envelope is damaged, they should also try and contact the sender (or the recipient) quickly to let them know. The address is right there on the envelope.

    I think I agree with not using USPS anymore, I have not had very good luck with sending packages through them lately. No wonder they are hemorrhaging money.

  3. Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

    Am I the only one amazed at the odds of two TI-83 calculators falling out of damaged boxes at the same time?

    • SpiffWilkie says:

      I’m assuming that she put a TI-83 on a list of items in the package when she submitted the claim. The one she got could have been sitting in their lost and found area for a while (not sure what exactly USPS has, but FedEx has a large dept dealing only with items that have no sender/recipient info).

      • Yorick says:

        Based on this, and the number of times this displaced contents issue has come up, I think from now on I’m going to attach a list of box contents to the inside of any box I ship.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      You beat me to it. I can’t even come up with a far fetched explanation as to how this happened. The best I can do is that the box was opened, someone went through all the stuff, and then tried to recreate it, sans the books…and remembered the calculator looked a little odd and grabbed an old one from someone’s desk. And boy, is that a reach.

      • carlogesualdo says:

        I don’t think you can just “grab an old” TI-83 from someone’s desk. It’s not really the type of thing you would find lying around on anyone’s desk. Unless they’re an actuary or something.

        • Kitamura says:

          Even if someone had a graphing calculator lying around, the TI-83 hasn’t been available for sale for close to 15 years now (at least where I am, it was replaced by the TI-83 Plus and that was replaced by a completely different number after that). The chances that particular model would be around seems rather low.

          • Gambrinus says:

            Oh, I dunno, a ton of kids bought these for various math classes. I still use my TI-86 pretty regularly, and according to wikipedia, it was discontinued in…wow…2004.

      • carlogesualdo says:

        I don’t think you can just “grab an old” TI-83 from someone’s desk. It’s not really the type of thing you would find lying around on anyone’s desk. Unless they’re an actuary or something…

    • Boo LaRue says:

      Nope. My thoughts exactly.

  4. jumbojeepman says:

    Maybe the non-media mail in the media mail box detector went off and they decided to teach you a lesson.

    • hexx says:

      At my post office at least they ask a lot of questions about the contents of the box when you try to send it media mail. They want to make sure you aren’t trying to send non-media items because media mail is so much cheaper.

  5. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I’m starting to think that we should all take pictures of items before they go into the box, when they’re in the box prior to sealing, and another photo after the box is sealed, with the current edition of the newspaper in view for date verification. I doubt the USPS would let us photograph the clerk behind the counter actually accepting the sealed carton, though.

    There are too many stories of things being opened in transit for this to be a coincidence.

    • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

      Well, one quick thought – she sent this box Media Mail, which the USPS has the right to open and inspect (because you’re not supposed to send things like calculators). So, I’m wondering if her box got pulled for inspection (or “inspection”).

      • hexx says:

        Excellent point. Media Mail is not designed for sending calculators or clothes or other non-media items. They may very well have flagged it.

        • RandomLetters says:

          What if I wrap the clothes around the books as padding?

          • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

            I don’t work for the post office or anything, but at a guess I would say it’s probably not going to fly very well. The USPS states that media mail is “Perfect for sending used books” and “Intended for educational materials”. So, probably not okay to have the level of padding that clothes would provide. That is, of course, assuming that they actually look in the box.

            • RandomLetters says:

              I think I could make the arguement that padding the books would prevent sharp corners from possibly tearing the box as it’s jostled around during shipping. But then I’d have to be there as it’s opened for inspection to agrue my point.

        • Jevia says:

          Except that she wrote that the clothes were not hers and there’s no indication that she included clothes at all in the box.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i’d put a copy of the photo in the box too, maybe taped to the inside somewhere. with a name and address. not that i ever get around to shipping things….

  6. RandomLetters says:

    Somewhere there’s a naked woman desperately waiting for her package to be delivered by USPS so she can get dressed.

  7. 4Real says:

    Yeah I would have never used USPS for anything that heavy. Use Fedx or UPS..

    • hexx says:

      I don’t think the weight is the issue. I’ve sent and received heavy packages via USPS no problem. With that said, if you actually care about what’s in the box, send it via UPS or FedEx. USPS does not offer the same comprehensive package tracking that UPS and FedEx do, which is a problem when you need to find a lost package.

      • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

        Not sure if it applies to media mail, but doesn’t USPS have the “If it fits, it ships.” guarantee?

        So I agree that weight wasn’t an issue, just the way the shipment was handled. I trust UPS — I don’t usually have issues for USPS and for FedEx, only the weekend deliveries suck.

        • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

          The “if it fits, it ships” is for flat-rate Priority Mail packaging. Basically, if you can fit your stuff into a medium-sized flat-rate Priority Mail box that the USPS provides, and still have it close, you can ship for the flat rate, rather than having the box weighed. But that has no impact on any other form of shipment (like Priority Mail sent in non-flat-rate boxes, or media mail, &c.).

    • dolemite says:

      I find UPS utterly horrible. I trust USPS more than UPS. Fedex above all though.

      • MMD says:

        YMMV, depending on where you live. USPS is abominable in Chicago, and never sent any package of significant value via USPS when I lived there.

    • dallas214 says:

      I always use FedEx Ground service for anything over a couple of pounds. Not only are the rates lower but the shipping price includes $100 insurance and free shipment tracking throughout the transit process. If you’d like, they’ll even email you when it has been delivered. I do all of the shipping online and print out the shipping label. Then, I drop it off at my nearest Kinko’s location.

  8. scoosdad says:

    I’ve found that with the USPS, the more you tape up a box to keep it from opening during shipment (like the “triple-taping” the OP mentions), the more likely they are to refuse to accept it.

    I’ve shown up at the counter with a brand new box triple taped on every possible seam and they think the box was somehow previously used and damaged because of all the tape, and the clerk says, “no way, take it home and put it in a better box”. Idiots.

  9. sparc says:

    If you send something media mail, the entire contents have to be media mail. clothing and calculators aren’t media mail rate items and should not have been included with the books. Basically, you underpaid substantially on the items since it should have gone at the Parcel rate. Or you should have separated the non-media mail items and sent them separately.

    I’m going to take a guess that it wasn’t packed very well in a solid box considering it was a fairly heavy item. Basic cardboard boxes are fairly flimsy.

    • jeffpiatt says:

      with media mail the only thing that can be with the books are incidental “first class” items like an packing slip. also media is subject to search to prevent abuse of the rate. they sould have used the Priority mail large flat rate box. or if they wanted insurance used fedex ground.

    • JohnnyD says:

      “Jill” here. Based on the comments I’ve read there was some confusion about this, but I packed no clothes and no calculator in the box. When I picked up the calculator, I just figured it was mine at first- since they all look alike.

      • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

        Ah – the bit about the calculator was a little confusing (though I understood that the clothing was not yours). But yeah, if you only sent books via Media Mail, then getting back so much less than what you sent is absurd.

  10. srobles says:

    First off, I am sorry that your stuff is missing, you are entitled to expect your belongings to arrive safely, complete and in reasonable time. However, it disturbed me to read that you sent your stuff by Media Mail. Look up the definition and limitations for this *cheap* category for mailing parcels. If you used this service to send anything other than books and printed or electronic publications, the USPS is entitled to open and inspect your contents. Based on the list of items you mentioned missing, you would have been better served by using Parcel Post, or better yet, Priority Mail, which can give you a reasonable speed/cost alternative. You do not mention whether you purchased insurance for the package, which seems shortsighted, with Insured Mail you have the basis for a claim ending in indemnity for you. Be wary of flimsy boxes and packing tape, those boxes take a beating on their way to their destination, trust me. Lastly, word to the wise, include a list of items inside the package and keep a copy at home, so when you submit your claim you have a better chance to recoup your own items, especially irreplaceable ones or with sentimental value (a pic is even better). Chances are, you will use USPS again because of their pricing, convenience and universal delivery. Even though you had this bad experience this time, you can benefit from this and be a savvier shipper. I wish you all the best.

  11. hexx says:

    I think I’ve figured out what happened… On the claim form she filed, she likely had to state what was in the box. The USPS’s “lost and damaged package office” (I’m just making up this name), using this claim list, tried to recover her items. They grabbed the items they could find and incorrectly made assumptions about some of it, like the clothes.

  12. dush says:

    Something 37 pounds getting tossed around and dropped is bound to break open, even if you’d triple-taped it.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      Then why does USPS accept boxes of media mail of up to 50 lbs? If they can’t handle it without breaking it open, they should lower the weight limit.

  13. HalOfBorg says:

    Shipping Fedex?

    Put it in a cooler and tape it up good. I work for a water quality lab and we ship/receive water samples that way on a regular basis. Most of these coolers have been used, used, used…… and they look it. And they give better protection than ANY cardboard box you can imagine.

    UPS needs the cooler in a box FYI.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Well, as long as it isn’t one of those cheap styrofoam coolers!

    • RandomLetters says:

      I work for an oilfield services company and any time we ship water samples thats what we do. Buy some foam to fill the interior and cut out holes for the bottles to sit in and it’s perfect. And since it’s a cooler people naturally keep it right side up.

  14. mechcozmo says:

    Never ship Media Mail. I was going to ship some books to myself once, and the curmudgeon at the counter told me, “it’s the bastard child of packages, they sit around until someone cares enough to ship ’em, more of these get lost than anything else.” (Slightly paraphrased to the best of my ability to understand him)

    If it’s something you care about, or think you may care about, or cared about at one point in the past, avoid media mail.

  15. anime_runs_my_life says: do realize that you did sort of fudge the media mail rule right? Just because you had books in with the other items does not make it media mail. They should be going after you for the difference. I think Karma wins on this one – next time, don’t lie when you don’t have all media items for media mail.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      OP replied to a comment a little ways up… and says that everything she shipped was media mail appropriate. Perhaps not karma.

  16. InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

    I’m not blaming the OP, but I am wondering what kind of info she had to supply on the lost package form. Because if she gave a description of what was sent and the amount the paid to send it, that wouldn’t necessarily tell the USPS that the package was 37 lbs. I’m just wondering if that’s where the confusion came in (but I’m probably grasping at straws).

  17. Jawaka says:

    Meh, the USPS ships how many millions of packages a day? There’s going to be a certain amount of mistakes. And you know what Jill, UPS makes mistakes too.

    Next time pay for insurance and delivery confirmation.

  18. Oranges w/ Cheese says: when I moved was the best thing I did – people got to bid on my stuff (much much more than 37 pounds!) and I got to pick a price that worked for me.
    Overall, I got about 5 boxes, my washer, dryer, a couch, a dresser, and a bed shipped from Orlando to Michigan for $500.

  19. Robert Nagel says:

    UPS isn’t any better. They consider that they have earned the freight even if they deliver an empty box. Any damage is due to your not using a proper container and not packing correctly, although they won’t tell you how you didn’t pack it right.

  20. frodolives35 says:

    Memphis mail handling is full of crooks. She should be very afraid of the ID theft, When my wife was a teller at a local bank a lot customers new boxes of checks disappeared in Memphis while in route and were a constant source of id theft.

  21. JackGZero says:

    I use USPS media mail, priority, and priority if it fits boxes, as well as first class and international mail. Usually it arrives (both ways) OK. I have tracked a missing package to the dead letter office.. that was fun- no way to contact them to tell them where it should have gone. It was a Post Office error rejecting a legitimate address that gets mail all the time – that person was removed from the mail sorting job, according to the report I got, but still did not get the package. If NOT insured, usually it is gone forever. I know how to pack items, the Post Office has guides too. My packages hardly ever arrive damaged – books, china, cameras, Liquid Soap in plastic bottles, computers – both laptop and tower, and miscellaneous items. Insured Priority always gets it there but costs more. I do not insure stuff valued under $50 – I gamble and win vs. the insurance costs if less than 1 in 50 is damaged or lost. I used to use UPS, but Post Office beats their prices most of the time now, plus I ship to PO Boxes often. – I buy and sell on eBay as well as work for an online store, so I see thousands of dollars going to the Post Office from my activities, every year. Your experience may vary based on the Post Office your items pass through. I pack for about 6 to 10 foot drop survival and 50lb+ package put on top of the small uninsured packages as well as being left out in the rain. Plastic bags, Cardboard and Tape are all I need.

  22. says:

    I mailed 3 boxes from Morgantown, WV to Florence Ms on 7/23/12, the 2 smaller boxes arrived on 7/27/12 without any problem, the third and largest box did not arrive until 8/1/12. I noticed it was much lighter in weight. When I opened the box, my stuff was just thrown in, when I know for a fact, that I rolled all the clothes and it was tightly packed. Several items that I bought for my family from Amish country were missing as were several items of clothing that I bought for my grandchildren to start school in. Most of what was left in the box was covered in grease. The post master at the post office in Florence told me that most likely the box was damaged on the conveyor belt and that is the reason it was greasy. IF the box was damaged, and had to be repacked, why were several things missing. It is my opinion that someone had sticky fingers and they saw some things that someone in their family could wear or would like to have. I did not save my receipts, which I know now was a big mistake, because even though I had my boxes insured, the post master told me that nothing could be done without my receipts. The insurance was a complete waste of money.