Then it started happening on a daily basis. The addresses on the mail mysteriously changed, and letters were sent to the wrong place.
Important divorce court documents didn’t get to the intended recipient, and credit card bills were lost. Then wedding presents went to the wrong house. And a dog’s ashes couldn’t find their way home.
Even the pizza delivery guy rang the wrong doorbell.
Residents who live around White Meadow Lake in Rockaway Township have been plagued by mail and delivery mishaps for nearly a year, they said.
The lake is surrounded by residential streets: Lake Shore Drive, West Lake Shore Drive and North Lake Shore Drive. Despite the similar street names, there was never a widespread delivery issue until the summer of 2013, residents said.
“Before that it would only be random here and there, but this summer, it was every other day,” said Kerry Rivelli, whose North Lake Shore Drive address regularly receives mail and packages meant for the same number on Lake Shore Drive. “We were getting frustrated. We’ve tried to contact the post office, who has done nothing but ignore our requests.”
Rivelli said she tried returning the mail to the postal carrier with a note, and then she started delivering it to the intended recipient — Chrissy Garthwaite — herself.
Garthwaite, who lives on Lake Shore Drive with her boyfriend and his family, said they noticed the problem about nine months ago when her boyfriend’s dad learned he was late on some credit card payments. Garthwaite then received a note from her bank saying it received notice that her address had changed.
“I did call the bank to switch it back, and they were saying that whenever my real address was being entered, it was automatically being corrected to North Lake Shore,” she said. “I now have most things being sent electronically so my personal information is not being mailed somewhere else.”
Then wedding presents intended for another resident of the home were delivered to Rivelli’s North Lake Shore home in error. And earlier this month, Garthwaite said, her dog’s ashes were delivered several times to wrong locations, and then sent back to the mailer. She also said when entering her address into online systems such as eBay or Amazon.com, it would automatically default to North Lake Shore Drive.
“Our personal information is being sent to the wrong address. We don’t even know where things will end up half the time,” she said. “Whatever has changed, whether it’s something in the USPS national database or something besides that, it needs to be corrected. Lake Shore Drive does exist!”
But it seems some GPS systems disagree. When a pizza delivery guy entered Garthwaite’s address into his GPS system earlier this month, he was directed to the North Lake Shore address instead.
The address mix-ups problem extends beyond Garthwaite and Rivelli.
Teri Neidich of Lake Shore Drive said about six months ago, she started receiving mail and packages addressed to her, but with the North Lake Shore Drive address. When she inquired with the Postal Service, she said she was told there was a glitch in the computer system that was being corrected, but nothing has been fixed.
Melanie Mal of Lake Shore Drive said she and her neighbors on West Lake Shore Drive regularly receive mail for each other.
“Credit card companies are not open to hearing ‘It got lost in the mail,’ or, ‘There are mail delivery problems in my neighborhood and I didn’t receive it,'” she said. “As a result of not receiving mail, I’ve had to incur late fees. This doesn’t help credit ratings.”
She, too, said her inquiries with the post office led nowhere.
James Jones of Lake Shore Drive has changed all his bill-paying to online options, but he’s had problems in his divorce case because he doesn’t get all of his mail.
“When I stood in the courtroom before the judge trying to explain that I never received a court document, the judge looked at me skeptically,” he said. “My credibility is damaged.”
Bob Fehon of Lake Shore Drive, who is missing mail and has found his Lake Shore Drive address unavailable when ordering items online, has complained to no avail.
So has Lake Shore Drive’s Alan Kaminow.
“This has to be corrected in the main computer, wherever that is, but we haven’t had any luck getting to speak to the person in charge,” he said.
Then there’s Milt Weinberger of Lake Shore Drive, who said the problem has become intolerable. He said postal officials told him part of the problem was an automatic sorting system used before the mail is given to carriers. He was told his carrier would be instructed to check the sorted mail, but that has only helped intermittently.
All the residents said they’ve contacted the post office about the problem, but they’re told it’s being worked on, or that it would be looked into, or sometimes, calls were not returned.
And, in many months of trying, nothing has changed.
We reached out to the USPS, and while it looked at the issue, we contacted the Department of Transportation’s Office of Research and Technology, the home of GPS.gov.
Spokeswoman Nancy Wilochka said there are four main databases that offer services for GPS mapping: Tele Atlas Map Insight, which provides data to TomTom; NAVTEQ Map Reporter, which covers Garmin data; OpenStreetMap Project, which feeds MapQuest; and Google Maps.
To correct an error, users should notify all four databases, which can be done through the http://www.GPS.gov website, and then be prepared to wait several weeks to several months for the correction.
She recommended the homeowners choose a rep from the neighborhood to notify the fire chief, the police chief and EMS to ensure they all know about the issue so there are never delays with emergency services. Just in case.
Then we heard back from the Postal Service, which had an answer.
“The anomaly in our database is related to the way you spell Lake Shore,” said spokesman George Flood. “The correct spelling of Lake Shore Drive, West Lake Shore Drive and North Lake Shore Drive is two words.”
He said when Lake Shore Drive and West Lake Shore Drive were entered as “Lakeshore,” it would automatically default to North Lake Shore Drive.
He said when the database was first established, the Postal Service checked tax records with the municipality and also checked the actual street signs, which all showed the street addresses should be two words.
We asked why it was changed back in the first place, and Flood said the township made the request in May 2013, citing feedback from residents.
It certainly wasn’t from the residents we spoke to.
Flood said the Postal Service has taken several steps to correct the error.
“Our database folks have gone in and tweaked our database so it will accept Lake Shore or Lakeshore,” he said, noting it will take about 30 days for all the internal databases to be updated.
From there, outside companies that have had the address wrong will eventually sync up their databases with the Postal Service, so in time, all the systems will be updated.
As for why all the complaints from residents didn’t result in a fix, Flood said he didn’t know “what the disconnect was and we apologize to any customer who had this problem.
“When The Star-Ledger brought it to our attention, we made the correction right away,” he said. “There are going to be some internal quality checks put in place to make sure we’re delivering their mail accurately and timely.”
Those checks will include alert cards for the carriers, so they will know to look at the names and addresses and double-check before deliveries. Also, Flood said, a supervisor will hand-check the mail that’s sorted automatically to make sure it’s done correctly.
He said residents should start to see improvements immediately, and a week later, residents said it was “so far, so good.”
“No mail for the other side of the lake has appeared this week,” Rivelli said. “It was very interesting to see how quickly this was resolved by having you get involved when our calls and requests seemed to just be ignored for months. We just wish there was a better outlet for everyone to voice mail concerns.”
And there is.
USPS’s Flood said if problems continue, or if someone wants to share a complaint, suggestion or a compliment, residents should contact the local office of Consumer and Industry Affairs, which handles 350 post offices in the northern part of the state, at (732) 819-3260.