Snail mail with a digital age twist

Snail mail may never be the same again with the introduction of Earth Class Mail, an online service that helps you sort through your regular mail. The service offers the convenience of looking at your mail from anywhere in the world. No need to be at home to open or sort through your mail.

Your U.S. mail is sent to the Earth Class Mail "remote address" of your choice. They are located in about 20 major cities. Someone at the remote address scans the outside of each piece of mail, and your images are held in a secure online mailbox. (Other services email the images to you, but those emails are potentially intercepted and viewed by others.)

You look at the images in the online mailbox and decide what you want to do with the mail. The junk mail can be thrown out. If you want to read the contents of the envelope, you tell them to open it, scan it, and put the image in the secure online mailbox. The original hard copy can be forwarded to you or someone else. And any of your mail can be shredded or archived.

Personal pricing plans run from $9.95 a month to $59.95 per month. The cheapest plan allows only 35 pieces of mail to be handled per month, with additional charges per envelope and per page scanned. An individual with higher mail volume probably needs the $19.95 plan, while the most expensive plan is for those with very high volume.

The advantages are clear. You can read your mail from anywhere in the world. Junk mail is disposed at the click of a mouse. Your clutter is reduced. You also have the ability to easily store your mail electronically, indefinitely.

The disadvantages? Consumers will likely be skeptical about the safety and security of such a service. Do you risk having your new credit card stolen by a rogue employee? What if the employees steal your personal information to commit identity theft? Are the archives really safe and do they keep your mail indefinitely?

The company says they do a thorough security clearance on all employees, and that all of recording devices (camera, cell phone, computer disk, pens, etc) are banned from the mail processing area. Company officials take all precautions to make sure that employees can't write down or save your private information.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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