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Foreign postal claims move slowly

On Aug. 27, I sold a camera part on e-Bay to a person in Japan. It was sent airmail, insured, on that terrible day, Sept. 11. The buyer said he has never received it.

On Sept. 29, I went to the Gulfwinds post office on 22nd Avenue S in St. Petersburg and filled out an inquiry form. I was told claim forms can be filled out only for domestic losses and claim numbers are assigned only to domestic claims. I have never heard anything from the post office nor can anyone give me any information as to whether my claim was ever received.

I have sent a full refund of $72.56 to the person in Japan. Not only am I out this money, even if the post office does reimburse me, I have still lost the camera part. Richard Goldfarb

Response: St. Petersburg postmaster Thomas Pawlowski said he can understand your feelings about the delay in processing your claim. However, international claims and inquiries differ greatly from domestic claims, and the time it takes to get answers is largely out of the hands of the U.S. Postal Service.

For starters, under the procedures of the Universal Postal Union, an inquiry must be processed before a claim can be filed. Since the United States Postal Service has no jurisdiction over the delivery of mail once it leaves the country, inquiries are normally not even accepted until 30 days after the mailing date. This gives time for the letter or package to make its way through the recipient country's customs, delivery process and so on. So you got a jump start when your inquiry was accepted after only 18 days.

Once it was received by the Postal Service's consumer affairs office on Oct. 1, Pawlowski said it was mailed to the San Francisco claims office. From there, your inquiry about the passage was forwarded, by mail, to the the Japan Postal Service. Thus began another potentially long wait for you, since under the provisions of the Universal Postal Union, to which all member countries are signatory, countries with whom the U.S. Postal Service exchanges mail have up to three months to respond to an inquiry.

Some countries' postal administrations take the fully allotted time, he said, and others respond more quickly. During this period, however, there is little you or the USPS can do to speed things up.

At the end of the three months, or earlier if you're lucky, the Postal Service will notify you as to whether the package has been found or not. If it hasn't, you will be sent a claims form (PS Form 2855). Armed with a claims number, you can check on progress by calling the toll-free claims number, 1-800-601-9328.

Some quick arithmetic reveals that it can be four months from the mailing date before a claim can even be filed. There is an alternative, however: international express mail. While it would have cost you a bit more had you mailed the camera part by international express mail, you could have begun tracking it immediately by calling the express mail toll-free number, 1-800-222-1811. In addition, express mail, whether domestic or international, is automatically insured for a certain amount.

Where's the juice?

On Sept. 17, I filled out a survey for Daystar Marketing and Distributing in New Port Richey, for which I was to receive a case of orange juice. I have stopped by the office and called but have been unable to reach anyone who could help me with my case of orange juice. Harold Denenberg

Response: Dave Mills, director of marketing for Daystar Marketing and Distribution, said his company distributes Rain Soft water treatment systems. You responded to an ad offering a case of orange juice in exchange for allowing the company to conduct a water test in your home and get your comments on its water treatment system.

Mills said there were restrictions regarding who qualified for the case of orange juice and test. Some of the requirements that fall under the ad's disclaimer that "some restrictions apply" are that those responding be homeowners, not have any water conditioning equipment, be employed or retired with a reliable income, be full-time residents and have a credit card. Once the forms (what you referred to as a survey) are mailed back, Daystar responds to those who qualify, but not to those who don't.

Mills said he called and asked to speak to you but that whoever answered the phone said you weren't available and hung up. Since he wasn't able to speak to you, he was unable to resolve your complaint.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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