Certified mail is often considered by U.S. Postal Service customers as a secure -- even failsafe -- way to send a letter. However, life happens, and even certified mail can fail to reach its destination. When this happens, whether you are sender or receiver, the Postal Service has a procedure to follow.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If you sent a certified piece of mail, but haven't been notified that it was delivered, you can use the "Track and Confirm" page of the USPS website to locate its current whereabouts.
What is Certified Mail?
Certified mail is a USPS service that allows you to confirm delivery. The Postal Service keeps certified mail proof of delivery records for two years. When you send certified mail, you get a receipt that can be useful if you are mailing a legal, financial or other document that must meet a deadline. To receive a receipt stamped with the mailing date, you must go to a post office window or, in rural areas, hand the certified piece to a letter carrier.
In addition to a proof-of-mailing receipt, you can purchase a proof-of-delivery receipt, termed a return receipt. At the time of mailing, you can designate whether the package requires a signature for delivery. You can even specify acceptable names for the delivery signature. When the package is delivered, the Postal Service mails you the return receipt -- with signature, if applicable.
What Can be Mailed Certified?
You can send first-class or priority mail via certified mail. You cannot send express, parcel post or bulk rate mail using certified mail. Neither can you dispatch international mail as certified mail.
Certified mail is likely to travel fairly quickly. Priority mail is guaranteed to arrive at its destination within two to three business days. First-class mail arrival times are also typically within three days or less, according to the Postal Service.
Certified Mail Limitations
Certified mail cannot be insured. Therefore, you cannot receive any reimbursement if the mailed item is lost. Moreover, it cannot be tracked, although the Postal Service may be able to trace it using available in-transit scan information. COD, or collect-on-delivery, service is likewise not available for certified mail. You must pay for certified service when you send the letter or package.
In Case of Loss
Your certified mail may be delivered to the wrong address or even routed to the incorrect post office. If five or more mailing days have passed and your recipient confirms that he has not received the letter or package, visit the "Track and Confirm" page of the USPS website. Enter the label ID number that is printed on your certified mail receipt and submit it. If the online information is not definitive, call 1-800-275-8777 and speak to a representative. Tell her your certified mail is lost and give her the label ID number. She will forward the information to the appropriate post office. That post office must respond to you by the end of the next business day, according to USPS policy. Neither you nor the recipient will be able to collect any compensation for the loss.
D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.