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USPS Package Tracking: Huh?

This story unfolded over the course of three weeks:

USPS Tracking

USPS Tracking

After the package visited Poughkeepsie for the second time, I contacted the local delivery manager. He was absolute baffled as to what was going on, but promised to intercept it and give me a call when it returned.

When I called on 22 November, I got somebody else who was also completely baffled. However, she could view a scan of the package and noticed an odd mismatch:

  • The package tracking info showed my name and street address
  • The tracking info had my email address
  • The package label had somebody else’s name & address in Rensselaer

As best as I can follow the explanation, automated routing machinery at each facility scans each incoming package and shunts it to a conveyor belt filling a bin, thence to a truck, and away toward wherever it’s going. Alas, the (bogus) tracking info associated with this particular package aimed it toward me in Poughkeepise, but, when it arrived, a human read the actual label and tossed it in the bin headed toward Rensselaer.

Upon arriving in Renselaer, the automation fired it back toward Poughkeepsie.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I buy plenty of “made in China” things, many shipped with tracking numbers, and tracking generally works the way you’d expect. Sometimes, however, the shipper does not tell me the tracking number and the first I learn of it is when tracking emails begin arriving from USPS. In other cases, no USPS facility along the way scans the package, whereupon the first notification I get happens when I open my mailbox and see the package.

In this case, I hadn’t bought anything close to the time when it would have been shipped and the tracking number didn’t correspond to any of my orders.

If this were an isolated incident, I’d shrug it off, but over the last year or two this is the third or fourth time this has happened, with packages from different Chinese sellers and another shipped from Arizona to Tennessee.

There was also a certified mail piece addressed to somebody at a nearby (easily typo-ed) address, delivered to our mailbox, but tracked as “handed to resident”. Whoops, indeed.

In all those cases, I got the tracking information from USPS, but the packages went directly to their destination. The extensive looping for this package was definitely a New Thing.

Nobody can explain how I (and my address!) get associated with these packages:

  • It’s obviously not a problem at the source, as I have no idea who the sellers / shippers are
  • To the best of my knowledge, they don’t know me, because their addresses aren’t familiar
  • The notices come directly from the USPS, so they’re associating me with a random package
  • It’s not a fault on my end, because I haven’t bought the items and don’t know they’re coming

Definitely a puzzlement …

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  1. #1 by Keith Ward on 2017-11-26 - 09:42

    I had a few incidents that were a bit odd but things eventually showed up on their own. One of the oddest was a package I inadvertently shipped (to Russia no less) before being paid for on ebay (oops). I actually never did get paid but it was on the way anyhow. It was only a $30 item or so and the buyer never responded. Six months or so went by and then I got the package back as undeliverable, and by then I had no idea what it even was. Who knows what happened to the recipient and why it could not be delivered but my guess was a renter that had to suddenly move out. Just surprising that someone else didn’t end up with it and that it made it all the way back.

    • #2 by Ed on 2017-11-26 - 11:13

      Back before China Post / ePacket delivery had all the bugs worked out, I’d occasionally get a package filled with Cheap Somethings I’d forgotten I ordered.

      (Admittedly, other explanations for my surprise come to mind, but, most of the time, I can keep those pretty well tamped down.)

  2. #3 by Olli on 2017-11-26 - 10:10

    Maybe something to do with Electronic Data Exchange?
    https://www.usps.com/postalone/program.htm

    • #4 by Ed on 2017-11-26 - 11:17

      I’d believe a glitch in the source database, except I get tracking info about mailings from (presumably) independent Chinese sources and (definitely) different US senders, sent to people and addresses I don’t know. The latter have no connection to me, so a simple typo can’t account for the problem.

  3. #5 by Trudi on 2017-11-26 - 10:20

    The world awaits the answer… did you ever get it?

    I think there was something similar a few years ago with the bad guys changing routing numbers on checks so that it didn’t match the bank name printed on the check… and those eventually-tattered pieces of paper would cycle endlessly

    • #6 by Ed on 2017-11-26 - 11:19

      Not so far, but ya never know.

      At least they’re not billing me for extra postage to keep things moving along!

    • #7 by Vedran on 2017-11-28 - 08:25

      Isn’t it obvious? You’re getting anonymous fan mail. Maybe they think you should start Mailbag Mondays like Steve Jones of EEV blog :)

      • #8 by Keith Ward on 2017-11-28 - 18:03

        DAVE Jones ;-) Ed, maybe you should consider making videos for youtube on the order of The Signal Path channel, less frequent and high quality content … that is if you have time. I’m certain it would take much more time though.

        • #9 by Ed on 2017-11-28 - 19:04

          The rule of thumb seems to be ten hours of production behind every hour of video, so it’d be a major major major time sink. I’d rather ride my bike and tinker with stuff than become a video producer!

          • #10 by Keith Ward on 2017-11-28 - 19:56

            Honestly I would also rather you spend your time doing those things too and for myself, much better use time for a good balance … but we would enjoy whatever you made ;-) I’ll also let you know that I needed to locate my Art of Electronics, Second Edition and found a page from a printout stuffed inside from the Circuit Cellar BBS from 1992. Some conversation between you and several others regarding IBM PC voice synthesizing. I didn’t see anything that I can recall that was significant info, so must have just used an accidental (?) printout as a bookmark. I’ll keep it in the same time capsule for now. No real relevance here just feel out and felt compelled to tell someone who could relate.

            • #11 by Ed on 2017-11-28 - 20:01

              AFAICT, the CC BBS faded away as the Internet took over. It’d be amusing to have all that information available, but … maybe we don’t need to shouldn’t remember everything.

  4. #12 by Dave on 2017-11-27 - 09:25

    USPS seems to rather frequently mark packages as delivered, regardless of them actually arriving at the correct location. The problem is, automation stops at the curb, so if the mailman thinks he’s at house #54, but really is at house #55, your package gets marked as delivered, and your neighbors either have to complete delivery, or not. In either case, once the package is marked as delivered, USPS can no longer track it or tell you what happened to it, because they’ve completed their end of the bargain. This is particularly infuriating when it’s your passport in the package. In cities with numbered streets, it’s worse. Your package was delivered to 54 27th street, but your delivery address is 54 24th street. Of course, you weren’t getting tracking updates, so it’s now been two weeks, and no one at 27th street knows where the package went. Even if it went back to USPS the next day, it had been marked as delivered, so there’s no further tracking info.

    • #13 by Ed on 2017-11-27 - 10:30

      Somewhat to my surprise, the final “delivered” scan includes GPS-derived coordinates, so USPS (not me!) can tell exactly where it left their system. When the substitute carrier mis-delivered a tracked letter down the street, the delivery manager could actually send somebody out to retrieve it; we decided an Official Person would be better than having me show up at the doorstep and (try to) sweet-talk somebody out of the loot.

      • #14 by USB Buttons on 2017-11-27 - 10:38

        Well that is amazing. I wonder if that’s a recent development. My passport incident was around 8 years ago, and was never recovered. My most recent incident actually arrived a day after it was marked delivered, which most likely means whoever got it gave it back to the carrier the next day.

        • #15 by Ed on 2017-11-27 - 13:12

          I’m sure USPS started using scanners with GPS receivers to better meet the needs of Amazon / eBay / et. al., if only to help prevent (ahem) leakage along the way.

          When we get a misdelivered letter, we put it back in the box and hope The Right Thing happens; we never know the rest of the story.

  5. #16 by Hrap on 2017-11-30 - 08:05

    It’s the Russians. Puzzling that you missed the obvious explanation …

    • #17 by Ed on 2017-11-30 - 08:25

      I’m obviously under the influence of covert agents … [sigh]

  6. #18 by Olli on 2017-12-01 - 13:06

    Our mailman is prone to suffer some kind of complete mental breakdown from December to January (lots of cards and other stuff or maybe delirium tremens triggered by glögi).

    • #19 by Ed on 2017-12-01 - 16:35

      As part of the phone conversations, I learned their package volume was up 20% last year and will likely be up 25% again this year: their facilities and trucks have filled to overflowing. To judge from what I see in the truck, eBay and Amazon have become their major reason for existence.

      I’m willing to cut ’em plenty of slack, but …

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