In just one hour, the US Postal Service processes an average of 20.2 million mailpieces. In a year, that adds up to more than 146 billion mail items sent through the USPS. While most of that mail will arrive safely to its intended destination, inevitably, some packages get lost in transit.
The most common reason packages get lost by the USPS is because the address label falls off or the shipping label becomes smeared or illegible. The U.S. Postal Service and other national carriers suggest you include an extra address label with delivery and return address inside the package in the event this problem occurs. That way the Post Office staff can open the package and recreate a shipping label without having to send the package back to the sender.
A piece of mail must be considered lost by the USPS before you can submit a search request to find it—and there are specific time requirements for different kinds of lost mail. For most mail classes, the package must be lost for at least 7 days from the date of mailing before you can initiate a request to have the USPS search for the missing mailpiece.
|When is a USPS Package Considered Lost?|
|Mail Class||Delivery Standard||Guaranteed Delivery||Submit a Missing Mail Search Request|
|First Class Mail||1, 2, or 3 days||No||7 or more days from the date of mailing|
|First Class Package Service||1, 2, or 3 days||No||7 or more days from the date of mailing|
|Priority Mail||1, 2, or 3 days||No||7 or more days from the date of mailing|
|Priority Mail Express||1 or 2 days||Yes||When Guaranteed Delivery Date/Time is Missed|
|USPS Retail Ground||2 to 8 days||No||14 or more days from the date of mailing|
|Parcel Select Ground||2 to 8 days||No||14 or more days from the date of mailing|
|Media Mail||2 to 8 days||No||14 or more days from the date of mailing|
What if the worst does happen and your package doesn’t arrive as planned? For most classes of mail, you’ll be able to request a search from USPS after 7 days from the date of mailing. The request is called a Missing Mail Search Request.
Once you have the necessary details, you can submit your Missing Mail Search Request online at USPS.com. You’ll be required to set up an online account with the USPS in order to file the claim.
After the USPS receives your submission, they will send an email confirming they have received your Missing Mail Search Request.
To process the request, the USPS will use your tracking number and check all of the times your package was scanned in transit to pinpoint where it dropped off the radar. Once the USPS is able to gather more info on your package, you’ll receive updates on your package via email.
Hopefully, you’ll receive an email notification that your package has been found! Then the USPS will do their best to package the item and send it to the address you provided on your Missing Mail Search Request.
After you submit your request online, the USPS will begin searching for your lost mailpiece. The USPS will continue looking for your Missing Mail Search Request through their system until the search expires, typically 3 months after the request was submitted. If they’re unable to locate your item, they’ll send you an email notification to let you know the search has ended unsuccessfully.
The Postal Service has its own “lost and found” department in Atlanta called the Mail Recovery Center (MRC), which some may recognize by its older name, the “Dead Letter Office.” The staff at the Mail Recovery Center is dedicated to reuniting lost letters and packages with their recipient or sender.
As you can imagine, that involves some serious detective work to get the job done. Here’s how it works: the USPS processing centers send all their undeliverable mail to the Mail Recovery Center. They scan and open the packages to look for identifying info that may help get the package to its rightful owner—if the item has a value of $25 or more. Packages under $25 in value are disposed of and/or recycled. If there’s no way to identify the package’s intended delivery address or sender, then the USPS discards, donates, recycles, or auctions the item off.