Confusing wording makes postal transaction difficult
Q: Recently, my wife needed to send some stock certificates to a firm in Providence, R.I. I took the envelope to the Belcher Road post office.
The clerk initially filled out the registered mail form indicating that the insured value was zero. I told him I wanted to declare the value at $10,000 for insurance purposes. He readily made the change and rang up a charge of $10 for registered mail and $4.10 for insurance.
I pointed out that the form clearly states, "Domestic insurance up to $25,000 is included, based upon the declared value."
A supervisor was called, who said he had been with the post office 22 years and it had always charged for insurance. He even showed me a rate card, which listed all additional rates.
I wound up insuring the contents for $499 at an additional cost of $2.10.
The fact remains that the official USPS form indicates the insurance is included.
I thought of appealing to a higher authority, like the Clearwater postmaster, but figured the Times, with its access to people of power and legal counsel, could be more effective.
A: No higher authority or legal counsel was required to get some clarity on the cost of insuring a piece of registered mail.
I just went to the Suncoast District Office of Consumer Affairs for the U.S. Postal Service.
Lina Hoffman, its manager of consumer affairs, explained it this way. As part of registered mail service, the Postal Service allows coverage to be purchased for up to $25,000 in value against loss or damage. The fee is based on the declared value of the contents.
The registered mail fee is the cost of postage, plus any insurance purchased, so like the statement says, "Insurance up to $25,000 is included in the registered mail fee."
The wording is awkward, to be sure. I had to call and verify with a representative in Hoffman's office that I understood correctly, even after reading her explanation. Hope this clears up the confusion.
Be on the alert for tax scams and identity theft
This tax season, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is urging consumers to be on the offensive for tax-related scams. He receives complaints every year about fraudulent tax preparers and charities, and identity theft.
To avoid becoming a victim, ask your prospective tax preparer for credentials and whether he or she belongs to a state board or bar association that requires continuing education. Ask about service fees upfront and whether they will represent you if you're audited. Only attorneys, certified public accountants and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in any matter including audits, collections and appeals. Steer clear of tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than anyone else.
If you receive e-mail that appears to be from the Internal Revenue Service, do not respond. This scam, called "phishing," is a common way for thieves to get your personal information. The IRS will not contact you by e-mail.