Private Mailboxes: USPS Changes Not Enough

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Some small business customers and members of Congress remain concerned about the U.S. Postal Service's rules governing Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies, despite proposed modifications to the rules the USPS announced this month.

The original rules took effect in April to discourage the use of CMRAs to gain access to another person's mail and to make it more difficult for fraudulent organizations to deceive consumers by hiding behind private mailboxes.

Under the rules, small mail-order companies and other private mailbox renters who want to receive mail at CMRAs must place a private mailbox designation on the second line of the mailing address to signify it as a CRMA mailbox rather than an apartment or suite number. They also must produce personal information, such as photo identification and verification that they live or conduct business at the address given at the time of the rental.

Proposed modifications include:

• Continuing to prohibit CMRA customers from using the term suite, apartment or other designation that implies something other than a mailbox, but allowing them to use "PMB" or "#" in their address to indicate the mailing is going to a CMRA.

• An education program conducted by the Postal Inspection Service, local post offices and CMRA industry representatives that would educate consumers on the meaning and use of PMB and how to determine if "#" denotes a CMRA address. Consumers also would be able to obtain data through a toll-free number yet to be established.

• A joint effort between the private mailbox industry and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to develop indicators that would help CMRA owners identify potential fraud by a boxholder.

The proposed modifications still would require CMRAs to provide postal authorities and law enforcement agencies with personal data about their customers.

While many businesses, law enforcement agencies and consumers support the modifications, some CMRAs and their small business customers say the PMB designation still creates a negative image in consumers' minds. They also say requiring all renters to present personal data to CMRAs violates their privacy.

According to Bruce Gentile, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the changes were agreed to by the USPS and representatives from the CMRA industry and other groups. They will be published in the Federal Register for public comment. If adopted, an effective date would then be set.

Rep. Sue Kelly, R-NY, vice chairwoman of the House Small Business committee, called a hearing last week to look into the regulations after small businesses complained the rules were not fair.

"The negative impact this regulation will have on small businesses and individual privacy will be great, while any benefits are questionable at this point," Kelly said.

But new chief postal inspector Kenneth Weaver said the modifications "strike a balance between protecting privacy, supporting small business growth and enhancing our arsenal in the fight against mail fraud."

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