What Part of “Addressee Unknown” Don’t You Understand?


UPDATE: Here’s a follow-up post with another piece of the puzzle you’ll need to help make the mis-directed mail stop returning to you!&nbsp 

I moved to Charleston in October. Since October, I’ve been getting other people’s mail. It’s mail that addressed to people I’ve never heard of, who apparently lived here before I did. That’s to be expected…for a while. But sooner or later, particularly when it comes to things as important as banking statements, you have to expect that the customer will notify his bank that he has moved so he can get his statements again.

At least, you’d think so.

For a while, I was getting more of other people’s mail than my own. So I went to the local office supply store and purchased one of those nifty self-inking stamps that reads:

Addressee Unknown

I thought that would make things clear.

I’d just get a letter addressed to someone else, stamp it, and drop it back in the mailbox. But the mail ended up coming right back to me, even when I circled the stamp with a black Sharpie marker. I went to the post office and explained my problem, and they pointed to the little barcode beneath the recipient’s address: you have to mark that out as well, they said, or the computerized scanners would just reroute it to my address.

(Well if computers are doing everything, then why do they keep raising the price for a damn stamp? Oh, well…that’s another post.)

Anyway, I started stamping, circling, and marking out the stupid little barcode. The letters went back in the postbox, and they didn’t return.

But a few mailers kept right on sending new pieces of mail. One of these persistent mailers that can’t seem to get the message is Bank of America.

For six months now, I’ve been getting the statements of someone named Hughes. This Hughes, with a first name that could be either a male or female name, apparently hasn’t noticed that he or she isn’t getting mail from the bank. It seems a little odd to me, but I have no other explanation.

In any case, when my little “Return to Sender” trick didn’t work, I took one of the bank statements — at least it looked like a bank statement from the outside of the envelope — to my nearest Bank of America branch. I explained that I was getting mail addressed to this person, but that this person didn’t live there anymore. I was assured that they’d take care of it, and they thanked me for taking the time to let them know.

That was about three months ago. Today, I got another letter for Mr./Ms. Hughes. I opened the letter and called the toll-free number at the top. I didn’t read what it said…it’s not my business and I don’t really care what it was about. But when I got an operator on the phone, I explained the situation. She asked for my account number.

ME: Mine? This has nothing to do with my account.

OPERATOR: I understand, but I need your account number.

ME: Why?

OPERATOR: I’ll be happy to explain after I’m able to call up your information.

The witch! Perplexed, I gave her my account information. She looked it up, verified that the address I had read off of the letter was in fact my address, then said she was entering a memo into my account that I shouldn’t receive Mr./Ms. Hughes’ statements.

You’re right there with me, aren’t you? You can surely see how ridiculous that is, right?

ME: Wait a second. Let me get this straight: you’re putting a note on my account that I shouldn’t receive someone else’s mail? Isn’t that sort of common sense? Do you really need to tell someone that? What I need you to do is go into his account and take my address off of that.

OPERATOR: Well, I can’t access his account without his passcode.

ME: I don’t have his passcode because…I’m…not…him! But there has to be a way to go into his account and flag it so that your bank will stop sending one of your customer’s bank statements to the wrong person!

OPERATOR: Well, without the information, I have no way to call up that customer’s account information.

ME: Okay. Then I have two questions for you. First, what if I hadn’t had an account with Bank of America? What would you have done then?

OPERATOR: I wouldn’t have been able to put the note in your account.

ME: But who, exactly, is supposed to go into my account and read that? The people that are mailing the statements don’t go into every account and read little memos like that, do they? Aren’t the statements just printed and mailed by computers? How would they know to look in my account for a note not to send someone else a statement there?

Oddly enough, she didn’t answer that. I continued.

ME: The next question is, how is it that in this day and age, with all the identity theft we keep hearing about, that any bank that tries to portray itself as being serious about protecting its customers’ security wouldn’t have some procedure in place to make sure that someone’s personal information wouldn’t end up going to the wrong person? Especially now that you know this is the wrong address?

OPERATOR: Well, if we responded to every request for an address change, sir, we’d have no way to know whether someone might be trying to steal the customer’s identity.

ME: I don’t understand what you mean.

Actually, I was beginning to think I did understand where she was going, but where I thought she was going made no sense. Sure enough, she proved me right!

OPERATOR: Well, anyone could call and say that ‘so-and-so’s’ address had changed to a new location, and the person who really lived at that location could then get that person’s personal information.

There was a moment of silence while I pondered how stupid this was getting.

ME: I’m not trying to switch the address to something else! I’m just trying to let you know to stop sending it to my address! If he really did live here, what’s the worst thing that would happen? He’d stop getting his mail, which he’s already doing because he doesn’t live here!

When she started to tell me how she sympathized with my frustration, I interrupted her, adding:

ME: You’re basically telling me that because of security procedures that are designed to prevent someone from switching someone else’s address so that they could intercept one of your customer’s financial information, I’m going to wind up continuing to receive one of your customer’s financial information!

Another moment of silence. She then tried to explain to me that “proper procedure” when someone relocates would be for that person to call the bank and let them know. I told her that I agreed completely, and that I had done so when I had relocated, and said that I wished this Hughes person had been as thorough. Then she had a brainwave that completely zapped the last of my rapidly-departing patience:

OPERATOR: Well, sir, what you’d need to do is to go to the post office and tell them that you should only receive mail addressed to you.

ME: Are you kidding me? So now this is my fault? You’re expecting me to go stand in a long line at a post office to correct a mistake just because this bank won’t? As a customer myself, this scares the hell out of me.

When I got off the phone with Ms. My-Hands-Are-Tied, I drove back to that same branch that had failed so miserably to do what I asked the first time, and I walked into the office of one of the customer service representatives. I explained the situation, then ended with a Mike Wallace-style, “What’s going on here?”

He apologized for my inconvenience, then said that he didn’t know why an operator would tell me that. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told by one company’s employee that he or she doesn’t know why another employee would tell me something I’d been told, I’d open a brand new bank account…but not in Bank of America!

He assured me that he’d take care of getting Mr./Ms. Hughes’ mailings suspended until they hear from Hughes himself (or herself).

I don’t feel all that confident that I’ve received the last letter address to a Hughes. I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: Here’s a follow-up post with another piece of the puzzle you’ll need to help make the mis-directed mail stop returning to you!&nbsp 

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.


  • urridiculous It’s annoying as hell though! I totally understand the frustration. Would you be okay with receiving someone else’s bank statement for the rest of your life? Obviously it’s not the end of the world, but I shouldn’t be getting someone else’s mail! Not to mention, you say opening “someone else’s” mail is a felony, but technically it is addressed to his residence. I used to sign up for stuff with pseudonyms all the time so sometimes we’d get mail for people that didn’t exist. Obviously this is a different situation. But the only reason he opened the mail in the first place was to try to resolve the situation; I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I still find it difficult to imagine you’d just accept someone else’s mail indefinitely for the rest of your life. I get annoyed enough when it’s junk mail that *is* addressed to me.

  • It’s a felony to open someone else’s mail. Why don’t you just stop being such a ####### weener and get over yourself. It’s just extra mail.

  • About a year ago my husband passed away. No one was prepared for the possibility, he was young and had always seemed perfectly healthy. Checkups hadn’t revealed a problem, and he had a “live for now” attitude about life. It’s one of the things I loved about him, but it put us in dire straights when he died suddenly. Without life or health insurance we soon lost our home. BUT…we still get mail with his name on it all the time. He’s gone, and we’ve notified all the companies we had accounts with as a couple, as well as the government agencies one notifies…but we cant close existing accounts in his name, or even change the mailing addresses, even though much of that mail is forwarded to us. You can’t imagine what a blow it is to get the mail, and see a letter or bill with his name on it, from someone who has every reason to already know he’s gone.
    They might as well be standing in my yard shouting that my husband is dead. it brings the knowledge down on us so hard.

  • You are really trying to change the mailing address on behalf of another person. The post office is the proper authority to establish your ownership of the address, which yes may require some physical evidence on your part. But they should be equipped to handle what seems should be a fairly common thing, and BOA should then trust their authority. This seems much more sensible in terms of security than your trying to provide evidence to BOA to change someone else’s mailing records; as demonstrated they cannot authorize you to make such a change.

    • I don’t disagree when it comes to changing someone’s address. But if someone is honest enough to call and report the fact that a bank is sending sensitive information to the wrong address, the bank in question should AT LEAST be willing to temporarily suspend any further mailings until it can get in touch with the person to confirm or deny the discrepancy. It wouldn’t even do that.

  • Although the BOA rep’s putting a note in your account was dumb, it does make sense that she isn’t the right person to handle this problem. I think your focus should be on the fact that you have actually *returned* mail for this account, and yet the BOA mailing dept. is still sending mail for the account.

    Normally when the post office knows that someone has moved from an address, they will not deliver any mail for that person, right? In fact, they will not even forward bank statements, credit statements, and other ‘sensitive’ mail to the person’s new address; instead, they return this mail to the sender. The correct action for the sender is to mark the account as having a wrong address and to suspend mailing for that account. Suppose BOA is correctly doing this function, then perhaps your returning the mail is not the same as the post office returning the mail (not ‘official’)? It also seems that since you are receiving this other person’s mail in the first place, that something is messed up in the post office records. Perhaps they simply *added* you as an addressee rather than making a proper transaction of marking the old addressee as invalid and then putting you as the sole addressee at that address. They should have a procedure in place to question that they take the right action when modifying an addressee, but it seems that someone messed up. So it does make sense to straighten this out with the post office and get them to stop delivering for the old addressee first.

    I *would* be surprised and annoyed if the post office couldn’t handle this, or if once the post office stopped delivering this mail, that BOA’s mailing dept. failed to stop sending to the other customer’s account.

  • I know this is an incredibly old post, but I would like to add that I have been living at my current residence for over a year and still constantly receive phone calls for the person that had my number last. No matter how many times we tell these businesses and even friends that they have the wrong number, they always call back!

  • One could also wonder whether The Hughes family died in some awful and tragic way. Yikes!

  • Plus, you frightened me when you said you gave your account number after dailing the toll free number without reading the contents of the letter. I worried you were not really calling BA, and might have fallen for an identity theft scheme. It doesn’t sound like that was the case, but I would have checked the number against another source first.

    An excellent point, Paul, and it’s definitely worth mentioning.

    I referred to one of my bank statements to confirm the number listed on his/hers, so I know it was Bank of America…I just don’t know why they seemed to be so inept.

  • A couple of comments.

    When I moved into my current home, I received mail for previous owners – and previous to the previous owners – for almost ten years. It wasn’t until the collection notices started that I realised why he had never informed people of his relocation.

    If it had been me on the phone, I would absolutely never have given the operator my account number. There was no reason she would need it. If you had not been a BA customer, you could not have provided one, why should you just because you happen to be. Plus, you frightened me when you said you gave your account number after dailing the toll free number without reading the contents of the letter. I worried you were not really calling BA, and might have fallen for an identity theft scheme. It doesn’t sound like that was the case, but I would have checked the number against another source first.

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