Welcome!
If you have an account, please:
Log in

USPS Insurance

Do you really know the terms? Can you actually collect?
(Image copyright Jeremy Duffy)

As with most insurance deals, the odds are greatly stacked against you. I know this. You probably knew it. And yet, we've probably both agreed to buy insurance on shipped items at least once or twice... and why not? The insurance prices are fairly cheap are presented as being so straightforward: "Would you like to buy insurance?" they ask. "How much coverage do you want?" they ask. "Here's your receipt" they say.

But after eight months of dogging the USPS through their claim process, after being repeatedly ignored, then finally denied my claim, and appeal, and then dismissed by the Postal Regulatory Commission I came to understand that I had several critical misconceptions about USPS insurance. If you want to avoid a similar hassle, learn from my mistake: never buy USPS insurance again until you fully understand it (and probably not even then).

This thing has some pretty critical info hiding on the back. Don't miss it!

During my first... or maybe second appeal of their refusal to pay for my damaged goods, the USPS Consumer Relations Specialist wrote, "It's the consumer's legal and moral responsibility to read the receipt". Strange seeming advice I thought, but after a trip to the local post office and requesting to look at an insurance slip (I didn't have any on hand), I found out that there are detailed terms and conditions hiding on the back.

Well dang.

All that time... How could I possibly have missed the terms and conditions this long? As you know, every USPS employee diligently offers the insurance details before the purchase so you can review them before making he decision to buy.

Wait? They don't!? That's odd...

Well at least they're sure to tell you when they hand the insurance stub to you, "please read the terms of insurance on the back side". Or maybe they turned it over so that it's the first thing you see and simply say, "here are the terms, probably should read these".

Not that either? Strange...

What I have been told is that the insurance covers loss and damage and that's the basis under which I decided to purchase it. In my limited legal experience, an offer made followed by acceptance and exchange of consideration (money) makes a binding contract. Who knew that I was also "responsible" for examining anything they hand me in case there are modifying conditions printed somewhere?

Sadly, while there are plenty of pictures of the front of USPS insurance slips on their website, there are no pictures of the back to be found. So for your convenience, here's a copy of mine:

The back side of a USPS insurance slip (click to enlarge)

If you ever feel like USPS insurance might be a good idea, you probably out to think hard about what these requirements really mean:

1. Payout hijinks

The USPS only has to pay you whatever the deprecated value of your item is. The first thing you should be asking is, "how do they calculate deprecation"? Of course it's possible that they'd be fair and reasonable about it, but an even more important point to consider is this: Do you still have your original purchase receipt for the item?

You see, they can't calculate deprecation unless they know how much you paid for it. If you purchase items online or are very good about keeping copies of purchase receipts you may be fine, but most people don't keep receipts for most of the items they buy. Or worse, what if it was a gift? What if you bought it used or at a garage sale? Per item 3 of their required documentation for your claim, you are out of luck.

If your lost or damaged items were purchased used or you no longer have the purchase receipt, your claim may be denied.

2. Take pictures

Taking pictures of broken things does seem like common sense, but in this particular case since I was shipping these extremely long distance, I took pictures of the box contents before shipping as well.

Before: Double-boxed and every space filled with wadded-up plastic bags.
After: What the heck did they do that would snap the handle off a my pot?

But pictures aren't enough.

The USPS requires that you return the package to their offices for inspection including: "the damaged item, the mailing container, any wrapping/packaging, and all other contents that were in the package". But if you don't know about this requirement (written in bold on the insurance slip), you might unpack and throw away the box and shipping material like I did.

They say you have 60 days after the date of mailing to file, but unless you're willing to set the items aside and not use them or carefully catalog the contents and reconstruct them when you're ready to go down the post office, you're better off going right away... heck, open every box IN the post office if you can!

Time is your enemy. For best results, open your packages immediately (at the post office if you can) and inspect everything for damage right away.

3. More documentation

If you purchase postage and insurance online, you can print copies at any time for your claim, but if you buy it at the post office: be wary. You must have the original insurance slip to qualify for coverage. That means if you lose it or you think everything's fine and you throw it away before discovering the lost/damaged item, too bad.

Luckily, if the insurance sticker is still present on your package (and you didn't discard the box per point #2 above), then that counts as proof of insurance.

The USPS doesn't keep computer records of post-office-purchased insurance. If you can't prove coverage, you lose it.

4. No coverage for fragile items

Interestingly enough, DMM 609, "Filing Indemnity Claims for Loss or Damage" states that the USPS is exempt from paying insurance claims on anything where the "Fragile nature of article prevented its safe carriage in the mail, regardless of packaging". In other words, fragile items aren't valid for insurance. Period.

5. If you sign, you're out of time

Here's another gem: "Loss after items signed for by the addressee, the addressee’s agent, or delivery employee if authorized under the applicable standards". That means that if you sign for a package before carefully inspecting it for any possible damage, you have waived all rights to file a claim. A signature signs the death certificate for your insurance coverage.

6. And on, and on...

"Mail not bearing the complete names and addresses of the mailer and addressee, or is undeliverable as addressed to either the addressee or the mailer". Uh... does that count if you don't enter the full zip code? Because almost no one I know knows the full 11 digit zip code. What if the to/from information is damaged BY the USPS in transit? Does that invalidate the insurance too? After all, they don't keep to and from information in their computer systems so the only proof is on the package itself.

Here's one for the folks using expensive computer software: among the items excluded from coverage are: "software installed onto computers that have been lost or damaged". In other words, if your computer is lost or damaged, only the hardware itself is eligible for replacement.

Lastly, only superficial damage is covered: "No coverage is provided for... concealed damage". If your item's internal workings are damaged in shipping, but it looks pristine on the outside, it seems they can deny your claim.

In conclusion

If you want to buy insurance, more power to you, but even having dealt with a variety of insurance plans and programs through the years, I've never seen one this hard to use before. And I've certainly never encountered one where that claims they can hold you to terms and conditions that they never clearly provide. Buyer beware.

Tags: , ,

Choicepoint

Lexis Nexis - The bottomless pit of user data
(Image used under: Creative Commons 3.0 [SRC][Mod])

LexisNexis (which acquired ChoicePoint) is the largest data-broker in the world. They create vast profiles on people and use that information to create various reports that they sell to companies of all kinds. These reports are used to make decisions about renting, insurance and more. In the past these reports have been purchased by law enforcement and criminal organizations; all to find out more information about you.

It might be a good idea to find out what's in your report, but it turns out neither simple web searching or LexisNexis themselves do much for listing out all the types of data they know about you. Well here's the list of information they had (or could have had) from my personal LexisNexis dossier:

Auto/Property Insurance Records:

LexisNexis is tied into the "Current Carrier" insurance information system used by insurance companies and agencies when deciding to issue you a policy. Think of it like a "credit report for insurance".

This includes 7 years worth of:

  • Name of insurance company
  • Your policy number
  • Type of policy (auto, boat, fire, quake, tenant, home, etc).
  • Risk type (standard, preferred, facility, etc).
  • Policy start date
  • Policy termination date and reason for termination
  • Names of each subject found on the policy

For auto, this also includes:

  • Insured vehicle (including VIN, year, and make)
  • Type of vehicle
  • Coverage amounts

For property, this also includes:

  • Address of property
  • Eviction records

Personal information that may be included

  • Date of Birth (partially omitted; ex. like 06/##/1970)
  • Sex
  • Social Security Number (Minus the last four digits)
  • Driver's license number (partially omitted)

"C.L.U.E"® insurance loss information reports (apparently reports on whether you're a high risk person or not)

"Esteem" report

This report lists circumstances relating to theft while working at a retail company (admitted or convicted).

In my case, this was of course blank so I don't know specifically what data items would have been included. Most entertaining, there's a line in the report that reads "If you believe we should have information about you in our Esteem Database, let us know".... Wow.

Background Investigation

If any company ever pays LexisNexis to perform a background check on you, LexisNexis will keep the information for future sales purposes. This may include your full date driving record and your personal credit file.

Screennow ® report

This report shows results of a national criminal records search.

Public Records

  • Professional licences held (Doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, barber, insurance agent, pilot, etc)
  • Address history
  • Deed transfer data
  • Aircraft registration
  • Loan information (where the loan was secured with collateral: i.e. a car)
  • Bankruptcies, liens, and judgements
  • Controlled substance license (in case you want to know who can legally get illegal drugs)
  • Business affiliations - When you're an officer or principal of an incorporated company
  • Significant shareholder records

Employment history

They claim they'll only have history of employers who previously asked LexisNexis to do a background check on you.

Does that make you uncomfortable?

Data brokers are just a business like any other, but as the credit report companies proved, buying and reselling data carelessly leads to disaster. Considering that these reports are FAR more detailed with a much wider variety of information, I can only imagine the consequences of allowing them to proceed as they have been.

Fortunately, you may not have to.

I was able to order my report using this webpage. I believe that doing so would be a good idea, but after that, make sure to also use their opt out procedures if you can.

It turns out that they'll only let your data go if you can prove that you're an identity theft victim or in imminent danger of bodily harm (police officer, public officials, etc). But it's easy to understand why they make it hard. After all, why would you set free one of your prize milk cows for no good reason?

In the end, I hope that strong regulation is introduced before we reach a problem like we did with identity theft.

Tags: , , ,

LexisNexis

Lexis Nexis - The bottomless pit of user data
(Image used under: Creative Commons 3.0 [SRC][Mod])

LexisNexis (which acquired ChoicePoint) is the largest data-broker in the world. They create vast profiles on people and use that information to create various reports that they sell to companies of all kinds. These reports are used to make decisions about renting, insurance and more. In the past these reports have been purchased by law enforcement and criminal organizations; all to find out more information about you.

It might be a good idea to find out what's in your report, but it turns out neither simple web searching or LexisNexis themselves do much for listing out all the types of data they know about you. Well here's the list of information they had (or could have had) from my personal LexisNexis dossier:

Auto/Property Insurance Records:

LexisNexis is tied into the "Current Carrier" insurance information system used by insurance companies and agencies when deciding to issue you a policy. Think of it like a "credit report for insurance".

This includes 7 years worth of:

  • Name of insurance company
  • Your policy number
  • Type of policy (auto, boat, fire, quake, tenant, home, etc).
  • Risk type (standard, preferred, facility, etc).
  • Policy start date
  • Policy termination date and reason for termination
  • Names of each subject found on the policy

For auto, this also includes:

  • Insured vehicle (including VIN, year, and make)
  • Type of vehicle
  • Coverage amounts

For property, this also includes:

  • Address of property
  • Eviction records

Personal information that may be included

  • Date of Birth (partially omitted; ex. like 06/##/1970)
  • Sex
  • Social Security Number (Minus the last four digits)
  • Driver's license number (partially omitted)

"C.L.U.E"® insurance loss information reports (apparently reports on whether you're a high risk person or not)

"Esteem" report

This report lists circumstances relating to theft while working at a retail company (admitted or convicted).

In my case, this was of course blank so I don't know specifically what data items would have been included. Most entertaining, there's a line in the report that reads "If you believe we should have information about you in our Esteem Database, let us know".... Wow.

Background Investigation

If any company ever pays LexisNexis to perform a background check on you, LexisNexis will keep the information for future sales purposes. This may include your full date driving record and your personal credit file.

Screennow ® report

This report shows results of a national criminal records search.

Public Records

  • Professional licences held (Doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, barber, insurance agent, pilot, etc)
  • Address history
  • Deed transfer data
  • Aircraft registration
  • Loan information (where the loan was secured with collateral: i.e. a car)
  • Bankruptcies, liens, and judgements
  • Controlled substance license (in case you want to know who can legally get illegal drugs)
  • Business affiliations - When you're an officer or principal of an incorporated company
  • Significant shareholder records

Employment history

They claim they'll only have history of employers who previously asked LexisNexis to do a background check on you.

Does that make you uncomfortable?

Data brokers are just a business like any other, but as the credit report companies proved, buying and reselling data carelessly leads to disaster. Considering that these reports are FAR more detailed with a much wider variety of information, I can only imagine the consequences of allowing them to proceed as they have been.

Fortunately, you may not have to.

I was able to order my report using this webpage. I believe that doing so would be a good idea, but after that, make sure to also use their opt out procedures if you can.

It turns out that they'll only let your data go if you can prove that you're an identity theft victim or in imminent danger of bodily harm (police officer, public officials, etc). But it's easy to understand why they make it hard. After all, why would you set free one of your prize milk cows for no good reason?

In the end, I hope that strong regulation is introduced before we reach a problem like we did with identity theft.

Tags: , , ,

The Giant Rabbit Hoax

There are many photoshopped and altered photos on the net. The easiest way to find them is to type "not photoshopped" into Google because people are big fat liars. One that constantly makes the rounds and is often listed as "amazing not photoshopped rabbit" is one of those times.

It's FAKE.
This is the real one

The photo on the right is very hard to find on the net because the ones showing him at odd angles increasing his apparent size are so much more fun, but the fact is that the rabbit is big, but not THAT big. Whether camera angle, photoshop or both, it's fake and obviously so. Can we please stop spreading the lies now?

Tags: , , , ,

Georgia Gets Credit Freeze Law August 1st

Last year, credit reporting companies "voluntarily" implemented credit freezes in all states in a desperate attempt to prevent more states from passing laws with worse terms than they wanted (that's my theory anyway). Now Georgia has passed just such a law. Starting August 1st, people will be able to freeze their credit for only $3, a full $7 less than the $10 the credit reporting companies allowed in their "voluntary" plan. Even better:
The new law also eliminates a major objection of retailers and other grantors of instant credit: that freezing a file was too much of a hassle for someone applying for an in-store credit card or car loan on the spot. Under the law, consumers will be able to "thaw" their files temporarily, and credit bureaus are required to comply within 15 minutes of the request — a first in the country.
Good. Now they have no excuse for making the thawing process more difficult for any other state. Tags:

FBI Director Evades Questions From Congress On FBI Torture

Fbi
(Image is in the Public Domain)

I got this e-mail from a member of congress who I must have contacted at some point because I'm on his mailing list. Anyway, I think the point that he makes is valid. By the own words of the director of the FBI, if the CIA were torturing prisoners, the FBI would have a responsibility to investigate, but they didn't. Congressman Wexler pressured him to answer why and he evaded it.

Here's the email:

This morning, during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, I questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller on his agency's response to claims – made by his own FBI agents – that the CIA was torturing prisoners. I wanted to find out why, if the FBI's own agents had alleged illegal actions were taking place, there was no investigation into the CIA's illegal and immoral practices.

Mueller's responses, which I would like you to read below, create new concerns and call for further investigation in the days ahead.

I believe Mr. Mueller owes more to Congress and the American people than the half-answers he gave in his testimony today.

I would urge you to contact the editors and news departments of your local media and ask them to look into the responses below. It is critical that this discussion takes place beyond emails and blogs – and is covered by the mainstream media.

In two weeks the Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings to investigate the fact that the highest levels of the Bush Administration sanctioned and ordered the torture of prisoners in United States custody. This is intolerable and we must vigorously oppose this policy that demeans our nation and offends our conscience.

Please read the below transcript of my exchange with Mr. Muller.

This is a deeply troubling interchange which should be alarming to all Americans.

Congressman Robert Wexler

DONATE

—————————-

(TRANSCRIPT:)

Robert Wexler: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, in January of 2006, the New York Times reported that the NSA wireless wiretapping program had produced thousands of leads each month that the FBI had to track down, but that no Al-Qaeda networks were discovered. During a July 17, 2007 briefing, FBI deputy director John Pistole indicated that the FBI was not aware of any Al-Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States. In August of 2007 Congress passed the Protect America Act, giving the intelligence community greater access to electronic communications coming into and out of the United States. I have two questions in this regard.

RW: Has the FBI found any sleeper cells yet? One…

RW: Two. Has the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programs either before the Protect America Act or after led to the prosecution and conviction of any terrorists in the United States?

Robert Mueller: Well, as to your first question as to whether we have found affiliates or, as you would call them, cells of Al-Qaeda in the United States, yes we have. Again, I cannot get into it in public session, but I would say yes we have. With regard to the relationship of a particular case or individual to the terrorist surveillance program, again that is something that would have to be covered in a closed session.

RW: Alright, Mr. Director. An LA Times article from October, 2007 quotes one senior federal enforcement official as saying quote “the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved ? end quote. The article goes on to say that some FBI officials went to you and that you quote “pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the investigations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy ? end quote.

RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?

RM: I can go so far sir as to tell you that a protocol in the FBI is not to use coercion in any of our interrogations or our questioning and we have abided by our protocol.

RW: I appreciate that. What is the protocol say when the FBI knows that the CIA is engaging or the Department of Defense is engaging in an illegal technique? What does the protocol say in that circumstance?

RM: We would bring it up to appropriate authorities and determine whether the techniques were legal or illegal.

RW: Did you bring it up to appropriate authorities?

RM: All I can tell you is that we followed our own protocols.

RW: So you can’t tell us whether you brought it; when your own FBI agents came to you and said the CIA is doing something illegal which caused you to say don’t you get involved; you can’t tell us whether you then went to whatever authority?

RM: I’ll tell you we followed our own protocols.

RW: And what was the result?

RM: We followed our own protocols. We followed our protocols. We did not use coercion. We did not participate in any instance where coercion was used to my knowledge.

RW: Did the CIA use techniques that were illegal?

RM: I can’t comment on what has been done by another agency and under what authorities the other agency may have taken actions.

RW: Why can’t you comment on the actions of another agency?

RM: I leave that up to the other agency to answer questions with regard to the actions taken by that agency and the legal authorities that may apply to them.

RW: Are you the chief legal law enforcement agency in the United States?

RM: I am the Director of the FBI.

RW: And you do not have authority with respect to any other governmental agency in the United States? Is that what you’re saying?

RM: My authority is given to me to investigate. Yes we do.

RW: Did somebody take away that authority with respect to the CIA?

RM: Nobody has taken away the authority. I can tell you what our protocol was, and how we followed that protocol.

RW: Did anybody take away the authority with respect to the Department of Defense?

RM: I’m not certain what you mean.

RW: Your authority to investigate an illegal torture technique.

RM: There has to be a legal basis for us to investigate, and generally that legal basis is given to us by the Department of Justice. Any interpretations of the laws given to us by the Department of Justice…. (talking over each other)

RW: But apparently your own agents made a determination that the actions by the CIA and the Department of Defense were illegal, so much so that you authorized, ordered, your agents not to participate. But that’s it.

RM: I’ve told you what our protocol was, and I’ve indicated that we’ve adhered to our protocol throughout.

RW: My time is up. Thank you very much Mr. Director.

Could we get a little accountability over here?! Please?

Tags: ,

Another Class Action Suit Against Lifelock

Lifelock
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)
This time, it's in New Jersey.

On its Web site, www.lifelock.com, the company reports that it places requests for fraud alerts with credit bureaus on behalf of its clients. "If someone is trying to use your personal information, you will be contacted by the creditor that is issuing the line of credit," LifeLock says. "If you receive a call and you are not the one applying for credit, the transaction should be stopped immediately." But creditors are not required to contact applicants even if they have fraud alerts in their files, says the Pasternak lawsuit. The Experian lawsuit makes a similar argument. The Pasternaks also blast LifeLock’s $1 million guarantee, claiming that the fine print renders it virtually worthless.
Tags: ,

Scientology Given Free Reign on Ebay

Scientology
(Image used under: Creative Commons 3.0 [SRC])

For some reason, eBay has given the cult of Scientology free access to their servers so they can delete auctions that would have allowed people to get emeters for less money. Of course, the reason for the cult to want to do this is very clear (money), but why eBay would cooperate with them is another matter entirely.

Tags: ,

Build-a-Bear And Your Child’s Sensitive Information

I’ve built several bears with my kids, but I always balk at the part where they’re supposed to put in their information. They just don’t need that much personal data about my kid. Instead, I put in MY personal e-mail address so that if it did get “lost” and recovered, they would be able to e-mail me at the least, though we’d probably just replace it anyway… Tags: , ,

Ohio E-Voting Report: Surprise! It Doesn’t Work!

I should make a song. I'll call it "Duh" and repeat the word "duh" over and over. Then I'll send it to all the state election boards who have been using e-voting. Here's an excerpt from Ars Technica's writeup of this startling revelation:
To put it in every-day terms, the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant," Brunner said in a statement. Note that Brenner here is describing machines that have been in use in Ohio since before the 2004 presidential election. This isn't some glimpse of how bad things might be in November 2008. It's a look at how bad they've been all along.
*sigh* Tags:

If you want to learn more about my professional background, click here to learn more. Otherwise, let’s get started - how can I help?

Online learning
On-site learning
Read my blog

Data Abuse

Data brokering is the practice of collecting as much data as possible about customers or visitors into profiles. Then the data is sold, shared, or lost in data breaches to be used in targeted marketing or ID Theft.

[Click for full description]

How to Steal Identities - Why It's So Easy

Just why is it so easy to steal identities? Where is all this information coming from!?

[Click for full description]

Data Abuse

Data brokering is the practice of collecting as much data as possible about customers or visitors into profiles. Then the data is sold, shared, or lost in data breaches to be used in targeted marketing or ID Theft.

[Click for full description]

How to Steal Identities - Why It's So Easy

Just why is it so easy to steal identities? Where is all this information coming from!?

[Click for full description]