Paperless postal service

While checking out NEWScan, a site that shows the front pages of fourteen major US newspapers all on one page, I came across an interesting story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times on paperless mail.

The article highlights Steven Stark  and his experience with using a paperless mail service. From the article:

Millions of Americans receive online versions of their bills and bank statements. But Stark is one of tens of thousands who have decided they don’t need any physical mail, be it love letters or advertising come-ons.

Instead of plodding down to the mailbox, they open their Web browsers. Rather than stuff file cabinets with paper, they keep their mail online.

Earth Class Mail assigned him a post office box in Los Angeles. For $11.95 a month, the company opens all of his mail — letters, bills, catalogs and all — then scans and uploads it to the Web so he can read his correspondence online. Stark doesn’t have to give the post office his new address every time he moves. He can go on vacation to Palm Springs or Las Vegas and not miss any important mail. By checking a box on his computer screen, Stark can tell the company to shred, recycle or forward the mail to him. He can have the company send packages to his house or pick them up at the nearest Earth Class Mail Center. “It’s just more convenient,” he said.

From the Earth Class Mail website:

No matter where our customers are, they simply log in to their secure Earth Class Mail account to view scanned images of their mail envelopes. They then decide which items to have opened and securely scanned so they can read the contents online, and which items should be recycled, shredded, archived, or forward-shipped to them wherever they’re located – all with a few clicks of a mouse.

I’m not sure this is going to catch on as fast as email, but I can see it being more popular among younger folks who have very different views of privacy in an increasingly online world. Thoughts?

37 Comments for “Paperless postal service”

  1. posted by Blair on

    There was a show that followed this company as it was starting up (showing all the pitfalls and perils of getting a business going). It was pretty interesting.

    As for the service itself, I think it’s a great idea if you get a lot of important information through the mail. I’d think that it would be wonderful for workers who travel heavily and need to keep their mail from piling up while they are away. For me, it’s not worth it as all of my bills and paystubs are available online, while the stuff that comes to my house is just junk that takes 2 seconds to go from the inbox to the recycling bin.

  2. posted by Cyrano on

    My company is thinking of going fully virtual with the office (there’s not that many of us anymore). This would be a great solution to a physical mailing address if we were based in Cali.

  3. posted by Captain Audio on

    The problem with ECM is that if you receive an envelope containing 1 page that you really need but it also contains 14 pages of “offers” or a throwaway publication, ECM will scan ALL pages, charging you for ALL pages. Could get ugly as charges go.

  4. posted by Kim on

    This service would be fantastic for me once I hit retirement. My hubs and I plan on hitting the road with a 5th wheel and seeing a bunch of places either for the first time or for a long look rather than a drive by. Getting mail like this would be terrific!

  5. posted by Jim on

    I’ve been using ECM services for almost two years now, and I love it. It has served me very, very well and cut down considerably on my clutter.

    Downside: I live in New York and initially, it was taking my mail an awfully long time to forward to ECM’s scanning facilities in Oregon. Then, late last year, they finally opened a “storefront” in New York City – so, my mail gets to them faster AND I have the advantage of going to pick it up in person (hence, saving forwarding costs) if necessary.

    But really, I love the service and I would have a difficult time going back to doing things the old fashioned way.

  6. posted by Julie on

    @Blair

    A few years ago I reached the point where I could no longer handle all of the junk mail I was receiving so I took a few measures which drastically reduced my mail.

    1. I contacted my credit union and asked to no longer received pre-approved offers.
    2. I looked for a return address somewhere in the pile of mail and used that information to look the company up online. I then called/e-mailed to have my address taken of their mailing lists.
    3. I registered with the Direct Marketing Association at https://www.dmachoice.org/dma/member/regist.action and had my name removed from their lists.

    It took a while to take effect but I am now amazed at the reduced waste that comes to my mailbox. I highly recommend taking these steps. The best part is that you can choose to keep receiving something if you’d like.

  7. posted by Khürt Williams on

    Steven Stark is not thinking this through. Does he want an hour employee at Earth Mail reading his tax information, his banking information (including PINS) etc? There is danger in this process.

  8. posted by Rebecca on

    I’ve been using Paytrust.com for several years now. They are different in that they only want your bills and they will pay them for you out of your bank accounts. This is different from the bill pay offered by banks in that paper bills can actually be sent to Paytrust, where they are scanned.

    If you only have utilities and insurance from major companies that can be paid online, then there really is no urgent need for such such services as Paytrust and ECM. But if you’re paying smaller local or regional companies for services such as landscaping or trash removal, etc., then a service like Paytrust ensures that you can take care of all your financial obligations as long as you can find Internet access somewhere.

    For people who move frequently, that means no constant change of address. And for those that travel frequently, or for longer periods of time, that means no missed payments.

  9. posted by David on

    I’ve been an EarthClassMail customer for nearly two years. In that time I’ve had to move a few times and spend long periods out of town. With ECM I never missed any correspondence from the IRS or anyone else, and I didn’t have to file change-of-address notices or arrange pickup with neighbors.

    As for privacy, I much prefer my mail going to a secure facility rather than sitting in an unsecured mailbox on the street. If you get an item that you don’t want ECM staffers to open and scan, they can forward it to you unopened.

    Added convenience bonus: Everything comes pre-scanned into a PDF, which I can store on my local machine and copy to my online backup service.

    I’m steadily reducing my paper-mail flow and won’t need ECM forever, but I’ve been very pleased with the service and value.

  10. posted by KM on

    How does this hold up when you have identity theft? Are you sure that everything gets shredded? Are you sure you want everyone looking at every piece of mail? How do they handle magazines? Or do you just have those come to your home?

    I realize that you can turn off the credit offers and such to cut down mail plus have electronic billing for many bills. I am just concerned about the additional eyes reading something that they have no business seeing.

  11. posted by Enrique S @ The Corporate Barbarian on

    I’ve opted out of paper statements whenever I was given the option, so most of my paper mail is junk. It just gets recycled. I don’t think I’d be comfortable letting a stranger open my mail. Stems back to the prying eyes of my parents.

  12. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    If you travel a lot for months at a time, I can see how this *might* be useful if you don’t have a trusted relative, friend, or neighbor to make sure you get essential mail. Or maybe if you were an extreme germophobe or the possible target of a mail bomber. But for people who pretty much stay put and don’t have irrational germ fears or mortal enemies, I just don’t see the appeal.

    You still have to make a decision about what to open and what to trash/recycle, then still read the things you’ve decided to open. It doesn’t save any time, and in fact introduces a delay between when you decide something should be opened and when you’re able to read it.

    Even after eliminating as much junk mail as possible and handling most bills online, we still get a lot of mail and would go *way* over the limits set by the service. This would get very expensive very quickly, and for what? To save having to open the door to empty the mailbox? To save the weekly trip to the paper recycling bin (which is on my regular errand route, so it’s not like I go out of my way)? I truly don’t see what the benefit is to this.

  13. posted by Brandon on

    $12 a month seems a little steep.

  14. posted by FekketCantenel on

    Now that’s what I call an innovative business idea! Sounds like the wave of the future.

  15. posted by sue on

    From the website:
    “Here’s how it works. First, you pick a “Remote Address” for one of our locations, and have selected mail sent to that address. As a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency, we then receive your mail, scan all the sealed envelope images, and then electronically deliver each envelope image to you via email and in your online account.

    You then log in to your account and tell us what you want to do with your mail:
    –Recycle all the junk with a click of your mouse.
    –Have us securely scan the contents so you can read it online.
    –Shred sensitive information
    –Forward the original to you or someone else. Forward the electronic document to whomever you choose.
    –Archive the originals at our facility”

    Like the idea of recycling the junk, but most of my bills are paid online already FREE with my credit union and I receive e-statements from utilities, insurance, BMV, credit union and my church.

  16. posted by Jim H on

    Dear Friends who care enough about me to send Christmas cards, Birthday cards, hand-made invitations, Wedding invitations, thank-you notes, postcards from far away places, or hand-written correspondence.

    Re: I’ve hired a stranger to intercept and shred your messages. I might possibly glance at a low-res jpeg of you correspondence however.

    Signed,
    Thoughtless Jerk

  17. posted by Fresh Smokin’ Hot Links: Tuesday March 17, 2009 | Uncle Fatlips on

    […] Paperless postal service […]

  18. posted by Samantha on

    I used a service similar to this when I had to spend several months in Europe last year but knew I was coming back (and had a renter in my home who I didn’t want dealing with my mail). It worked really well. The only aspect that fell short was that I had mail forwarded from my home address, and about half what should have been forwarded (first-class mail, checks, etc) got delivered home anyway. That was the fault of the Post Office, not the mail serivce. If it’s a permanent switch, I’m sure it would be much better.

  19. posted by Iyaz Akhtar on

    The show that covered ECM was called “Start-Up Junkies” and is on hulu here:
    http://www.hulu.com/start-up-junkies

    It’s an interesting program, and if you’re curious about the service, it’s worth a watch.

  20. posted by Evaluate your risks on

    You should always EVALUATE your risks before signing up to such a service. If you do sign up, you are storing your content with a third party. They may turn over your records with no notice to you in too many cases. This service has a weak legal protection.

    Quote:


    Thus, some Supreme Court cases have held that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in information you have “knowingly exposed” to a third party — for example, bank records or records of telephone numbers you have dialed — even if you intended for that third party to keep the information secret. In other words, by engaging in transactions with your bank or communicating phone numbers to your phone company for the purpose of connecting a call, you’ve “assumed the risk” that they will share that information with the government.

    You may “knowingly expose” a lot more than you really know or intend. Most information a third party collects — such as your insurance records, credit records, bank records, travel records, library records, phone records and even the records your grocery store keeps when you use your “loyalty” card to get discounts — was given freely to them by you, and is probably not protected by the Fourth Amendment under current law. There may be privacy statutes that protect against the sharing of information about you — some communications records receive special legal protection, for example — but there is likely no constitutional protection, and it is often very easy for the government to get a hold of these third party records without your ever being notified.

    Postal mail. The mail that you send through the U.S. Postal Service is protected by the Fourth Amendment, and police have to get a warrant to open it in most cases.

    If you’re using the U.S. Postal Service, send your package using First Class mail or above. Postal inspectors don’t need a search warrant to open discount (media) rate mail because it isn’t supposed to be used for personal correspondence.

    https://ssd.eff.org/your-computer/govt/privacy

    https://ssd.eff.org/3rdparties/govt/stronger-protection

  21. posted by Mletta on

    Allow someone from the USPS to open and read my mail? Scan it so that there are copies of this information floating around with tons of people having access? NFW

    Get real. No perceived benefit is worth the risk.

    Sorry. The USPS is the last group I’d trust with personal information, financial and otherwise. Are you kidding me? They have current and former employees who have stolen people’s mail. Many just simply lose it.

    You can pay your bills online. You can have your loved ones email you or call you. And you can keep a post office box (for a lot less in terms of fees) that you can have someone pick up for you if you’re really traveling the world and concerned about magazines and handwritten letters, etc. from those you care about. (You could also pay a trusted neighbor to do the same thing.)

    It’s bad enough that we are forced to pay online (and go paperless) in many instances, with the subsequent privacy and identity theft issues (where companies don’t even let you know they have been breached). Let’s hope the post office doesn’t decide that it’s easier for them to do this than deliver our mail.

    Good idea in theory, not in execution.

  22. posted by Stephen on

    Sounds really cool – I have a client who I think would like something like that – however I’ll just scan the mail myself and put it up on a private website or something that he can log into… I wonder if they have software people can buy…

  23. posted by Tanya on

    Like several commenters, I’ve been using ECM for years, and the problems listed in comments above are all solvable. You can direct ECM to only scan the outsides of your mail and then redirect sensitive items to a sub-account for processing (where that user would request that the contents be scanned). That reduces your costs.

    You don’t have to direct them to automatically shred/recycle Grandma’s birthday card. You can have the things you want to have in hand redirected (mailed to your real physical mailbox) at additional cost. Remember, if they’re scanning the outside, you can tell the difference between another credit card offer and your grandma’s handwritten envelope.

    This is a very useful thing for anyone who wants to keep their personal and business matters separate. In my case, my grandma knows where I live, so she would mail her card directly to me, anyway.

    I understand that this service isn’t for everyone, but some of the complaints don’t make sense to me because I’ve been using the service, and as Sue pointed out, the website covers all of this. I’m not saying that the commenters should use the service, just that their stated complaints are not the best reasons not to use the service. (With the exception of those who said they didn’t want to spend the monthly fee. That part is accurate and very relevant to a lot of people!)

  24. posted by alana on

    I quite like the brand new service MeeHive. It’s a free news aggregator similar to what you mention except you don’t get stories on topics you have no interest in. It’s still a bit rough but I do find topics of interest on it every day.

  25. posted by Emma on

    I think this sound awesome! I live in a place that doesn’t recycle paper, so it would be a huge for reducing my carbon foot print. Additionally, I looked at the site and they seem to have pretty good answers for all of the security questions. Thanks for the link, I am really considering this.

  26. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    Hmmm, yeah, I think I’d prefer to open my own mail. But I’m glad to hear that the folks who use the service are happy with it. 🙂

    Also: Julie (6th comment down) has some excellent tips for reducing your mail. Kudos, Julie!

  27. posted by Michele on

    This definitely would not work for anyone who uses Blockbuster online or Netflix.

    I also would worry about security. I’m paranoid about my mail ever since a valuable package I mailed was stolen while still within the USPS system.

  28. posted by Natalie on

    This might save clutter, but it doesnt help the environment. The mail is still being sent, just not to you. Someone still either chucks it in the bin or recycles it for you.

  29. posted by Jacque on

    @Blair (first commenter) – the show is called “Start-Up Junkies” and the first episode is/was available on iTunes for free.

  30. posted by Louisa on

    I’m all for being more environmentally friendly, but the idea of this makes me feel really sad. : (

  31. posted by Sonny on

    Like several people above I’ve been a happy Earth Class Mail user for almost three years now. Some of the comments here are just a little uninformed; as was already said, addressed on the company’s website.

    I trust this company’s employees much more than I would trust a postal worker, secretarial service, or a neighbor or employee to open and scan my mail. Check out the “security” section of their website, they are rather innovative about how they protect their customers’ confidentiality, like Swiss bankers.

    Netflix and newspapers are not a problem because you’re in control of what mailers have your Earth Class Mail address (I use one on Park Avenue in New York that they introduced last year, which boosted my consulting image which emboldened me to raise my rates to more than cover the cost of the service!); everything else you want to continue to come to your home continues to come to your home. I don’t send my news rags and magazines to earth class when I travel, I just put my residential mail on hold with the usps.

    Environmentally I have a smaller carbon footprint since I’ve used this service because a) they recycle or shred and then recycle all of the mail I either discard unopened or discard after scanning. If I have to be honest I probably only recycled a small percentage of my mail before, and I never shredded many things that I should have (I would just bundle them into trash bags with rotting tomatoes as a security measure, but then they didn’t get recycled). Also, it takes less fuel to deliver all the mail in bulk to one of their processing centers as for a carrier to drive to my suburban home every day, where I’d rarely be home anyway.

    I’ve tracked this company through the TV show and other press they’ve gotten (like Forbes.com that just did a story on them last week, I just found by googling) and they have launched their service now through some European post offices, who have much higher privacy standards than we Americans have (including, yes, the Swiss!). That’s a huge vote of confidence for me. I plan to stay with the service for the rest of my life. I’ve moved twice since I started with them and neither time did I have to go through the frustration of filing change of address notices with 50 companies and all my friends.

    Like my cell phone and my gmail address I intend to keep my earth class mail address for as long as paper keeps trying to find me. I tried going 100% paperless when I moved overseas before this service wa saround. Let me tell you, it’s not possible yet. Unless you live a debt-free, spending-free, tax-free life (and god luv ya if you do!) too many things I need to get are not yet available any other way. I learned that lesson the hard way on previous expat assignments.

    Sorry for the long note. I’m rather passionate about this company, their environmental impact, and above all, their customer service which I’ve had to use just twice but they were quick, polite, and solved my problem without hassle both times. They’ve removed one of the highest stresses I had as an international consultant who often has to take off on short notice for an unknown period of time. Mail was always my biggest headache, being single and with no one to slough it off on while I’m gone. I meet a lot of expats in my line of work and I always tell them about it and they always sign up the next day because they’ve all lived with this problem as I have. It’s not for homebodies, but if you move around like I do, it’s a life saver.

  32. posted by Jen on

    So I’m paying a service $12 a month to save me less than 3 minutes of my time a day? And in the process potentially leaking sensitive info? No thanks. I also agree with Jim H – when people take the time to send me handmade cards and handwritten letters, I want to actually get them, not have them shredded by a stranger. As for the argument that you can ask them to scan the outside and then if you think it’s sensitive info you can have them forward it unopened – why don’t you just skip them altogether then? So in those cases I’m paying $12 a month for them to show me the outside envelopes of my own mail? Yeah, no thanks. Seems like a waste of $12 to me.

  33. posted by Bob Ray on

    I’ve been happy with ECM, but they are raising my monthly cost for $12 to around $50. I’ve left them because of the price increase, and because I suspect they’ll go under within the next year. Obviously, their business model was flawed.

    I’m now trying Paperlessmail.com and, so far, I’m not impressed with anything but the price. The web site is fairly pathetic and I did not get email notifications on the received mail (although the scans are in the repository). I emailed them about the problem but it’s been three days and I have no reply.

  34. posted by Nette on

    I’ve been an ECM customer for over a year and although their service works well, the price increases have been amazing. It is now $19.95 for the basic service plus $1.50 per PAGE to scan your mail (and they do charge for every page including ads), plus around $5 per month to shred it…plus storage fees plus high prices to forward it to you. I’m looking for an alternative

  35. posted by Earth Class Mail on

    @Nette

    I just wanted to clarify something that can be confusing. There $1.50 charge is per item, not per page.

    One of the shortcomings of the previous scanning method is that we had to scan the entire contents, and we counted by page. We still scan the entire contents, but customers no longer have to count or ration pages.

    The shredding fee is optional, and most customers avoid it completely by using our secure recycling. Our recycling is not like home recycling where you leave it out on the curb. It is put and delivered in a locked container directly to be destroyed.

    When looking around and different mail forwarding service, we encourage people to evaluate the several key aspects of a good service:

    Features
    Address network
    User friendliness
    Expertise
    Credibility
    Customer Service
    Security

    We believe we are the best in all these key areas and offer the best value in the industry.

  36. posted by Benjamin Barnett on

    I live in Guatemala (originally from Texas) and these services are a lifesaver. Some people have their family do this for them, but many times that’s impractical, and frankly, I don’t want my family in my personal affairs 🙂

  37. posted by Rae on

    I’m a full-timer RVer. My first year on the road I rented a box at a UPS store in the city I was leaving. Once or twice a month during the year I would email the guys who ran the store and have them check my box for me, then instruct them to forward or destroy things. If I needed things in a hurry, they would scan or fax them to me.

    The box cost me about $150 to rent for 15 months and I only had to pay the actual postage on the mail they sent me; I was never charged for any other services.

    I have a different arrangement this year because my traveling style has changed, but my experience with the UPS store mail management style was positive and I would explore it again in the future if I needed to. It really suited the realities of my lifestyle.

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