Have a New Address? Don’t Lose Your Mail

With many employers allowing staffers to work remotely well into 2021, you may be considering a temporary move. Perhaps you have relatives who need help with child care, or elderly parents to look after. Or maybe, if you’re going to be all alone for the next few months anyway, you’ve decided having deer as neighbors in a tiny house in the woods sounds better than communing with the roaches in your apartment.

Before you go, among the things you should think about is how to keep your mail and packages flowing. A temporary relocation is not the same as even a two-week vacation, when you can put a hold on your mail at the post office and blissfully ignore it until you get home. Sure, much of what arrives in your box these days — like bills — can and may already be delivered electronically.

However, essential correspondence (like your absentee or mail-in ballot) is destined for your mailbox this fall. You also may have more packages set to auto-ship than you’ve realized (or you may not remember to change your address before hitting “buy now” on your favorite e-commerce sites). If you don’t want to sacrifice your goodies to marauding porch pirates, you need to be proactive about updating your mailing address.

The first step is simple: Sign up for mail forwarding, a service offered by the United States Postal Service. Ask for PS Form 3575 at your local post office or complete the forwarding process online (although there’s a $1.05 charge for web sign-up). Make sure to indicate your predicted end date on the form. The post office considers any move up to six months temporary. If you stay longer than that, you’ll need to ask for an extension on your mail forwarding, which the agency will do for another six months.

It’s possible you’ll run into a situation where the home you’re moving to has not yet been set up for U.S.P.S. service (especially if it’s very rural or has been primarily a vacation home). Visit your nearest post office to have them set you up with delivery service or offer you access to a free P.O. Box if you are not on an existing postal route.

Even if you think you can live without Postal Service deliveries, remember that the post office does some last-mile deliveries for other shippers — like United Parcel Service and FedEx. If you want your goodies, you’ll need a way to get deliveries from the post office.

Once you’ve submitted your change of address form, the post office will send a “Mail Validation Letter” to your current residence letting you know your request is in the system. You’ll also receive a Customer Notification Letter at your new address, which contains a code you’ll need if you end up moving home sooner or want to extend your getaway. It will take between seven and 10 delivery days (Saturdays count; Sundays do not) for mail to begin arriving at your new address, so don’t leave this until the last minute.

To ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle as you relocate, the Postal Service recommends signing up for its free Informed Delivery Service, which sends electronic scans of any envelopes headed your way, plus updates on package delivery. You can also leave instructions for carriers on where to put specific packages. Informed Delivery can be useful during a move, and particularly now, when online retail sales are way up and the Postal Service deals with organizational changes. If you already had Informed Delivery at your old address, you will need to use the code in your Customer Notification Letter to change your address from old to new. (And F.Y.I., Informed Delivery is not offered at every address.)

When it comes to mail or packages from UPS and FedEx, the onus is on you, said Jenna Weinerman, the vice president of marketing for Updater, an app that assists with the move process. Neither has the same forwarding feature that the Postal Service offers. However, both allow you to track packages in real time and leave instructions for the delivery person. (Unless you specify, packages are generally left on doorsteps or in designated areas in apartment buildings.)

UPS My Choice, a free service from UPS, will even give you an option to reroute a package that’s bound for your old address or have one left at a “UPS Access Point” — usually a nearby retail outlet — if a box is going to arrive after you leave for your new home. FedEx offers a Delivery Manager tool, which lets you closely track packages for free and reroute them if needed — for a fee. If a signature is required, FedEx’s Delivery Manager and UPS My Choice will let you sign for a package remotely. And if the post office is doing the last-mile delivery, you can track those packages using USPS.com’s tracking tool once they enter the post office’s custody.

Ms. Weinerman recommends you look through your past two credit card statements to check for auto-ship subscriptions you have connected to your home address. Commonly overlooked subscriptions include pet food, cosmetics, cleaning supplies and even things like specialty coffee.

Inevitably, no matter how hard you try to corral your online purchases, a few stray boxes may arrive after you depart. For those, you’re going to need to think strategically, since unattended packages are ripe for theft.

Ben Stickle, a criminologist at Middle Tennessee State University, theorizes that porch piracy — or package theft from doorsteps — has likely risen during the pandemic, simply because e-commerce has seen such a huge jump. Technically, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may cover stolen packages. But check your deductible before filing a claim; chances are it’s higher than the value of what was stolen, said Michele Staron, a licensed independent insurance agent. Plus, claims could substantially raise premiums or have an insurance carrier not renew your policy, she said.

If you report your theft to the police, they’ll try to solve the crime, but that’s often an almost impossible task, since usually, little evidence is left behind. Dr. Stickle said a majority of victims instead reach out to the shipping company or the vendor when a package goes missing.

“In most states, once a package is marked as delivered, technically it becomes your property,” Dr. Stickle said, which means it’s not really FedEx or UPS’s problem if it’s stolen. Dr. Stickle said many retailers are opting to replace stolen goods with no questions asked as a good-will gesture. “They’re willing to take the burden and cost to refund or resend.”

The easiest option, though, is to take a few steps to prevent theft, which is largely a crime of opportunity, Dr. Stickle said. Thieves tend to target homes close to roadways with boxes in plain view. The easiest way to thwart pirates, then, is to remove packages from view.

He recommends a planter or decorative box that you can put a package in. Cameras can alert you if an unexpected delivery shows up while you’re away, so you can ask a neighbor to hold it until you come home.

Finally, while there are not many international destinations welcoming Americans at the moment, if you’re thinking of working abroad for a few months, consider opting for a concierge mail service like Traveling Mailbox. “The last two or three months have been record months for us,” said Travis Poole, the company’s founder and president.

Here’s how it works: Before you leave, you set up mail forwarding to Traveling Mailbox’s headquarters. For $15 to $25 (depending on how much mail you tend to receive), the company takes your correspondence and sends digital scans of everything that’s not junk. Employees will open anything you ask them to open. They can also forward items, send your paychecks to your bank for deposit and pay bills.

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