The Grim Reality of Postal Insurance
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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 5:39 am 

I am sure this is not "big news" to many here - but, I have just taken some time to learn about Insurance with the USPS.

I have sent out well over 500 packages at this point.  I ship to anywhere in the world and so far everything has arrived safely.  Care in packaging prevents any damage - so I have never had to concern myself with an insurance claim.  The other day, however, I decided to ask the dude at the post office how it all works if there were ever an issue. . .

. . . I guess I had been blissfully ignorant and never really gave it much thought.  Of course, once a claim is initiated by either party, the damaged item needs to be brought to the post office.  There is paper work to be filed and the value must be proven.  The post office will then keep the item and eventually throw it out in the trash.  There are no exceptions to this and very strict rules prevent postal employees from keeping anything themselves (even keeping a junk mail coupon is cause for immediate termination).

There are no such things as "partial claims" - that is, collectible items are not devalued and partially compensated.  They must be turned over completely.  

So. . . if you were to buy a first print Woodgrain or mono C2 or whatever and it were to arrive damaged - say a box corner was chewed up and the corners of several books were dented or the mono has a large corner crease.  Assuming you had taken out insurance and could satisfactorily prove the value - what would you do?  If the mono C2 was Near Mint at purchase and now it was Very Good due to damage in the post, would you file a claim and hand it over to the employee at the counter - watching as they carry it away to its doom?

This is quite a dilemma for collectible items.  Heck, I don't think I could bear to hand over a Player's Handbook to someone if they were going to destroy it.

This just reinforces my belief that insurance is almost useless - maybe if the item is very expensive and you need to protect it against loss. . . of course, I'm such a nice guy, that I would probably just reimburse the buyer out of my own pocket.  8)

The final "wrinkle" in all this is - the item will probably survive.  Apparently there are people on waiting lists to claim undelivered items (and probably ones that are handed over through insurance claims as well).  

So, the mono C2 might just turn up on eBay someday anyway:

"I am not sure what this is - I got it with a bunch of stuff that the my local post office was going to throw away.  It says "Ghost Tower of Inverness" and appears to be from some game called Dungeons & Dragons (I think this was some sort of craze in the 80's). . .  Also, I have something called Amazing Spider-Man with an issue of #1 and this funky piece of artwork by someone named Picasso (looks pretty trippy if you ask me)."


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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 8:24 am 

I only use insurance in the case that the item gets "lost" and never finds its way to me.  

For damaged items I would just file a dispute with paypal or ebay (you can go for partial refunds) since always the sender did a shit job of packaging the item(s).

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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 9:18 am 

Oh boy am I glad this thread started.

About a year ago, I had bought a huge lot (well for me it was huge...about 400 books) to add to my collection. It was sent in three insured boxes with tracking via USPS.  Of course all were shipped on the same day.  I received the first box on a Wednesday, and the next a day later (about a week after it was shipped...very exceptable).  However, the last box did not arrive for another week (and after multiple inquiries to the USPS as to its location via tracking).  I opened the third box  right at the post office (as should always be done for picking up insured postage).  To my surprise, there was a second box inside (mind you, the boxes were 2' x 2' x 3' or thereabouts).  The second box was mangled.  The books inside were laying in a haphazard fashion.  Many were bent, creased, and folded.  Two Deck of Encoutners lay at the bottom, the boxes being crushed (one torn to bits) and the cards splayed across the box.  I showed the USPS attendant immediately noting the problem.  I asked to take the package home for further inspection.  And this was approved grudgingly (the counter personnel wanted me to turn it over immediately for claims on insurance).  

At home, I noted the following:
1.  About 1/4 of the books/items were damaged (after contacting the seller and noting the condition of the other two boxes, I deduced that most of this damage was in shipping).
2.  Many books were missing (about a dozen as I recall).
3.  The first two boxes were posted on the same day as the third.
4.  The first two boxes had the insurance and delivery confirmation stickers on the middle right portion of the box.  The third box had the sticker at the upper right.  No bigge right?  Wrong...the third box's insurance sticker was also missing a corner.  This portion of the sticker was to be found on the inner mangled box!  
5.  The first two boxes had media mail stamped on them.  The third box did not, but guess what?  The inner third box had media mail stamped on it!
6. I contacted the seller to find out that he had not double boxed any of the packages (surprise!).  

I took the evidence back to the USPS to make a claim.  Of course, they denied any problem.  They did not even want to insepct the other two boxes. To me it was obvioius that if the boxes were not damaged when they left the seller's hands and they were damaged at the point they were delivered at my local USPS (as stated by the employeees), then the damage occured somwhere in between and that the USPS should be liable (I can just picture some idiot dropping the box off a truck, seeing that it was torn, watching many items and cover fly away in the wind, and shoving the items back into the origianl box to be packed in another box after I harassed the USPS as to its location).  I started the claim.  

I was asked to prove the value of the stated above...this is nearly impossible in a small Ohio town.  The seller was not able either.  The books were turned over for inspection by the USPS.  The books were placed in "the safe" until they could be inspected. The attendant confiscated the boxes and placed them under a steel table that was within sight from the counter.

I had come to the point that I was going to ask for a partial reimbursement for the items that were missing by dividing the total of the purchase by the number of books on the last invoice and multiplying by the books missing/destroyed (I have to disagree on the above info, as the claim form I was given had claims for total package loss and partial package loss...i.e....missing items).   This would allow me to keep the present books and get some cash back for the missing items.  However, I was put off over and over and over again by the USPS attendants/postmaster.  

Finally, after two months of hassle, I decided the hell with it.  Every time I went in to ask about the books, it was "not a good time".  I finally  asked when would be a good time.  Come to find out, the attendant had just taken over the claims department and had never initiated a claim before!  I wrote the USPS a nice long letter explaining the situation.  I dropped the claim realizin that I would only be given $50 or so and that further problems were not worth the while.  :evil: That pissed me off as I thought about all of the wasted time/energy.

Get this...I asked to have the books brought out from the safe.  Low and behold, underneath a pile of boxes and a tarp, the attendant in full sight pulled my boxes out from beneath the same steel table that she placed it weeks ealier!!! 8O  :twisted: Boy was I pissed!!! I held my anger in however, chuckled, and said "Nice Safe".  The books were of course more damaged after being beneath the objects under the table than they were when I gave them up!!!

Needless to say, I use UPS for handling large deliveries.  

I also must admit to getting some great pleasure out of coming in with 50 or so envelopes and packages at the same time and backing up the USPS attendants for a half an hour after my huge recent auctions!!! For me, this is the insurance remibursement!!!

I use insurance soley as a deterrant to dishonest sellers.  I always reccomend it to ease the minds of buyers.  But lets be is a waste of money.  I only add it as an optional add on for my invoices.  

To all....UPS is much better at handling large purchases!

Thanks for allowing me to add this to the threads...even after a year, I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from this episode.

May Eru's light shine upon you always.


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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:47 am 

I have the exact opposite experiences with UPS actually.  I guess in the end theyre both the same.

Ive never had to file an insurance claim with USPS though and the one time I did with USPS they sent an independent inspector to the then place of employment I was at, he took 3 seconds and left and that was the last anything was heard of from it.

It was a computer by the way, totally smashed with the metal supports on the inside practically twisted in half.

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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 12:27 pm 


Over 1,000 shipments sent and another 1,000 received by me and I have never had a problem with the USPS. They are open 24/7/52/365, bring my packaging supplies to me, and pick up packages at my house. They have the best rates in the business and ten times the shipping options of the other companies. I have shipped whole computers, collections of 100 books via media mail, 100 miniatures, $400 cash, you name it. I have received packages on Christmas day from them and I have shipped items on Christmas Day. I have shipped to 12 countries on 4 continents and three islands, both by airmail and by surface. That is over 12 years of shipping and receiving with them - never a problem.

It is my feeling that when a seller claims the Post Office must have lost it or it is slow because of the Post Office they are lying 99% of the time to cover for their own negligence.

Not to dispute what is clearly a bad deal for "morgansusername" but it seems to be a local employee issue. Sorry for the misfortune of that :( I just wanted to show the other side of the coin, i.e., I think on the whole the USPS is a great company.

It is good to know about the insurance claim conundrum, as I've never had to file one.

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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 1:14 pm 

I agree in part to this.  I am constantly amazed by the number of packages that I receive where the sender doesn't even take the basic precaution of a return address.  Despite requesting that they do so.

But the Royal Mail, and I suspect most other mail companies have statistics which relate to the number of items which get lost in their own system.  Admittedly a lot of these are down to badly packaged goods which subsequently burst open when dropped.  OK they should have been better packed.  But they also shouldn't have been dropped.

And I know I'm not the only person who has experiences of postmen that simply ring the doorbell and leave the package on the doorstep.  It saves them the time of putting a note through the letterbox and taking the package back to the post office.

There was also the case of a postman in the news recently who had a house full of thousands of item of undelivered mail.  London I think.  This may be local employee issue.  But surely the employer is still responsible for those thousands of undelivered items.

It is a fact that some things go missing in postal systems.  But I would bet that there is a larger proportion where the sender simply uses it as an excuse to cover up their own shortcomings or fraud.

I am happy to use insurance for any items I send.  But I make sure that the buyer is aware that I am acting as an agent to purchase the postage and insurance on their behalf.  Consequently, the contract is between the buyer and the postal company.  If anything is damaged or lost, it's not my problem.  And if they don't like it, collect it in person.

And I suggest that you read the small print on international insurance very carefully.  The last time I looked, the insurance with the Royal Mail only covered the package until it left the country.  Which makes it pretty much worthless.

I must stress that it is a rare occurrence for something to go missing.  But when it does the service provider generally doesn't make it easy to file a claim.


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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 1:35 pm 

Hi All,

I recently purchased an expensive module from a seller in Italy.

I waited a coupla weeks - nothing turned up.

Contacted him, he gave me the tracking number.

According to the Royal Mail, it had been delivered & signed for.

I requested a copy of the signature.

They sent me a blank sheet of paper. I kid you not - a hand-written
number where the "tracking number" sticker should have been, with nothing written in the space where the alleged signature was.

Mr Malcolm was so cross she went round to the local Post Office to shout at the manager. He checked in the back post room, and found the module.

The whole thing just shows what a shambles the royal mail is.

a) why was it marked as delivered?
b) why did the manager send a "blank" signature to the royal mail complaints office?
c) why did the complaints office send the "blank" signature to me?

I have had several run-ins with the post office, but none quite so blatant as that.

So you may have faith in the US postal service, but dont extend that to the Uk one.



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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 1:36 pm 

The post office is a mixed blessing.  I've shipped over 5,000 items to 56 different countries, plus APO and such; the number of "nightmares" I've had as a seller is in the low single digits.

I've only had one shipment, as a buyer, that I can conclusively say that USPS lost.  The seller shipped it with tracking, I never received it.  The tracking notification stated that it did indeed arrive at the post office, and was waiting for pickup.  No one could find it.  I spoke to three different reps, plus the manager; they even let me come back and search the shelves myself.  Nothing - it truly vanished into thin air.  I think this is the one instance where I can say that the post office was corrupt, and it was probably just the momentary greed of a single employee.

Insurance claims, however, are a royal PITA.  Getting your money back, compared to the hours and labor and stress invested in fighting the system, is really not worth it, unless the item was truly valuable and you *need* the money.

The conundrum is that without insurance, any dispute turns into he said/she said.  There are buyers out there who will say they did not receive a package, then demand their money "back," and then give negative feedback if you don't give in.  These people can be identified as follows:  go into their feedback, see which sellers they've given negative feedback to, and politely inquire of the former sellers the nature of the negative.  If they've tried the same thing with other sellers, you have a bad apple.  I just stand up to them and take the negative hit, and then neg back and ban them from all future auctions.  So far, in 5 1/2 years, I've only had 5 of these nasty people.  The most recent one was in 2002.

The issue of shipping and delivery does get thorny at times.  I've considered going to a system of mandatory delivery confirmation, but that is not at all popular with buyers, since shipping is already expensive, and few people want to wait for Media Mail.  Right now, I just let people know that I will not refund them if they experience loss or damage and they declined insurance (which I always offer).  I pack safely, but once the package is out of my hands, it is out of my hands.  If I'm feeling nice and the purchase was small, I'll eat the loss, but more often the result is a bitter customer and a neg to me.  I absolutely do not give even partial refunds if I am threatened.

But overall, I've had many more problems with international shipments - primarily to Italy, Yemen, Russia and Asian countries excluding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.  Most of my international buyers are excellent people.  I think the losses that do occur are either customs issues, hushed-up damage, or postal corruption overseas.

If anyone has any ideas on how to convince more buyers to use insurance without making it mandatory, or ideas on how to deal with lost items from a seller's standpoint, I'd love to hear them.


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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 6:22 pm 

I too have had only one claim in the 8 years I have been buting/selling.  It was a lost package valued under $50.  I submitted the claim form and got my check with no problem.  Two weeks later the item showed up.

Someone else said it, but I agree that some POs are better than others.  When I was in San Diego, I did not go to the closest one, the customer service there was lacking.  The one I did go to they were friendly and willing to help me out with any problems.


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Post Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 7:25 pm 

My experience with Australia Post has been all good... no lost packages, no damage. The only gripe I had at my old address was that if a package was too big for the letterbox, the postman would leave it balanced on top. Nothing was ever stolen (don't know how) but more than one got soaked by the rain by the time I got home. Since moving, the new guy will bring the packages up the drive and knock on the door.

I was in the post office yesterday sending something off, and the lady in front of me was having an argument with the guy behind the counter... she had sent a money order to someone, but apparently she had put the wrong name on the MO, and also sent it to the wrong address - and she wanted the PO to fix it up. She seemed mighty pissed when the PO couldn't help her out... but her own stupidity didn't seem to worry her at all.




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Post Posted: Sat Aug 07, 2004 10:00 pm 

darkseraphim wrote:If anyone has any ideas on how to convince more buyers to use insurance without making it mandatory, or ideas on how to deal with lost items from a seller's standpoint, I'd love to hear them.

Seraphim, I know that you have been selling far longer and to a much greater extent that I do, but I am curious about a couple of things:

- You mention that few people are willing to wait for media mail.  In my own auctions, I offer both media shipping for either $2.50 or $2.75 (depending if it is under 1 lb or between 1-2 lbs.).  I also offer Priority shipping for $4.50 (this assumes the item will fit into a flat rate envelope).  At least 90% of the people choose media rate shipping and I have never had one complaint on the delivery time.  Sure, if it takes you a week to get it out in the first place, then there may be an issue, but I believe that you get things out pretty quick.

-I can't recommend any way to convince people to get insurance - it is like trying to get someone to buy the extended warranty on their new TV.  From a personal standpoint I have never bought it - since I have never had an item lost (and any damage has come from poor packaging) I would be out roughly $300 in insurance costs over the years!  That means that I could buy something for $200.00 and have it get lost and still come out ahead.

- As far as lost items from a seller's perspective. . .  I try to view myself as a business - and if I were buying from an established business and something didn't arrive I would expect them to send a replacement or reimburse me.  So that is what I would do if that were to occur with one of my buyers. . . . within reason that is.  I guess, don't hold me to it - I am not sure what I would do if something that cost $100.00 were lost, but then again, I usually take on confirmation at my own expense for high value items.  

As an added note (in case anyone is unaware of this little tidbit)
If you don't want to make confirmation necessary, you can still file a "lost item" form with the Post Office who will then try to track it down.  Also, be sure that you write RETURN SERVICE GUARANTEED on anything shipped Media Mail or Parcel Post or the Post Office will simply through the item away if it is undeliverable (as in an incorrect address, damaged address, etc.)

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Post Posted: Sun Sep 19, 2004 10:45 am 

Support Login

"Acceptable Proof of Loss:
For damaged items:
* If the addressee files the claim, the addressee must present the mailing container, including the wrapping, and packaging, and any contents that were received, along with an estimate of repair cost. The damaged item is returned to you for repair.
*For a claim because some or all of the contents are missing:
You must present the container and packaging to the US Postal Service when filing the claim failure to do so results in the denial of the claim)."

Now, they don't say anything there about how items without repair costs fit in to this. Paintings can be restored, but of course they're not the same. Still, it does not look to be a clear "give it to us and we will destroy it" policy. Perhaps the local post office had some clueless people working there, or maybe there's a different policy I haven't found?


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Post Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 2:13 am 

Hmm, that is a more detailed version - but for a full refund on a hopelessly damaged or unrepairable item, the Post Office is not going to let you have the item and reimburse you at the same time. . . you would have to turn it in (fraud prevention).

On the flip side, Postal regulations are very strict and prohibit Postal employees from keeping anything under any circumstances (thus preserving the integrity of the system).

So, the item is handed over and the Post Office's only recourse it to dispose of it.  As I mentioned, there is usually a waiting list of those who are non-employees that can receive items that are "trash".  It would be random luck to get something good.

I wouldn't be surprised if the employees are clueless - I think I know more about postal rules and rates than everyone at my station!  Still, it does seem to be logical. . . Perhaps there are further ways to prove depreciated value from damaging, thereby getting a partial refund and keeping the damaged item?

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Post Posted: Wed Oct 13, 2004 11:52 pm 

I am more a baseball card man, but caught this thread and thought I would chime in.
I insure all my shipments with a private 3rd party firm. They are called Discount Shipping Insurance (DSI). I ship with the USPS and DHL, but insure all my shipments with them. Much less hassle that dealing with the carrier claims.

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Post Posted: Thu Oct 14, 2004 2:27 pm 

I can feel the USPS pain.

I happen to have an inside track, my mother being a mail delivery person.

I once sent out an envelope, with a few CCG cards in a top loader(hard sleeve). Two weeks later it showed up to my house, stating it was undelivered, opened, cards gone, top loader in tact.

I sent out an item to the wrong address (by a single number! in the street!) and had it returned so mangled I had to refund the persons money.

My postman actually once carried a package to me around in his truck for several days. I knew it was at the post office, and he likely had it by tracking number. And one day he delivered my mail, and then passed us. I caught up to him, and lo and behold he had it in a pile of stuff.

My mother also informed me that while most mail carriers are careful, there is a significant minority who are not prompt, careful or caring about your package. Specifically, media mail is often poorly handled.

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