“THEY DON’T LIVE HERE ANY MORE!” I scrawled atop the envelope from AARP in big, angry, red marker, borrowed from my daughter’s collection of kindergarten art supplies. Probably a little over the top for a message to the USPS, but I was at my wit’s end; something had to be done.

When you move – whether it’s across town or, like us, across the country – you have a lot of things to do. You have to find a new place to live; you have to get all your belongings from Point A to Point B; you have to set up all your new utility services; you may have to find new health care providers, new schools for your kids, heck, even familiarize yourself with new grocery store chains. And something else you have to do? Fill out one of those “Forward Mail” slips with the USPS.

Our move was complicated. Our old house sold so quickly that our plans for our new home weren’t even close to finalized; we didn’t have a new address for the Postal Service to forward mail. So we rerouted our mail from our old address to an interim one (my parents’ house); then, a few months later once we were established in our new home, we had our mail forwarded there. All in all, I filled out 6 different change of address forms with the Postal Service in two different states and three separate towns. I covered all my bases; and yet, we were still receiving forwarded mail fully 10 months after moving out of our old home.

The people who’s old home we now live in… well, they weren’t quite as thorough.

Last summer, as we were settling into our new digs, I let it slide when we got mail addressed to the former homeowners.

At Christmas, I found it unsettling that we were receiving their Christmas cards (don’t you tell your friends and family you’ve moved?).

But when we started receiving their tax forms in January, including a plethora of documents I can only assume had vital statistics on them (had I opened them, which I didn’t, thank goodness), I got annoyed.

Hadn’t they filled out a change of address form? Weren’t they forwarding mail to their new house? Didn’t they care that nobody seemed to know they’d moved? Didn’t it concern them that sensitive tax documents were being mailed elsewhere?

So the giant, angry, red scrawling messages to my Postal carrier – whom, I’ve learned, is named Steve – began. After a few weeks, Steve came up to my front door one afternoon and rang the bell. As it turns out, the former homeowners had only filled out a temporary change of address form (um, did that mean they were planning on moving back in to the house they’d sold us?). So every month, the USPS would send them a reminder to fill out a new form to ensure their mail made it to the right place. But apparently, one month they just stopped filling out those forms. Steve knew The “W” Family did not live in our house, but he only worked 5 days a week; on his off day, a sub would deliver our mail, and that’s when their mail would appear in our box, only for Steve to find it tagged with graffiti the next day.

I don’t know if the old homeowners are running from something, if they have something to hide, or if they’re just forgetful people. But to me, this boils down to more than just a lazy character trait; it’s about money. When companies with which you do business, former employers, and even the USPS don’t know where to find you, your financial documents can end up in the wrong hands. They’re lucky all this material – including, at one point, a replacement credit card – ended up in my hands, and not someone with malicious intentions. (For the record, I called the credit card company whose name appeared on the outside of the envelope, and they instructed me to open it – which I did – read off the card number – which I did – and then shred the card – which I did – while they closed the account to ensure no fraud would occur.) Over the past year, I’ve received not only credit cards, but phone bills, tax documents, Christmas cards, birthday cards, tuition statements… you name it, I received it. And I didn’t do a thing with it, other than slip it back in my mailbox with the hope that it would somehow make it to the right people.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke