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fasboater (Structural) (OP)
15 Feb 12 9:54
OK, I ran into an issue and I didn't pursue it any further. Maybe that was a bad decision but I don't like confrontation.

I started consulting about a year ago.

Here is what happened.

At the very beginning I started cultivating a relationship with a local manufacturing company. I did a lot of work over a period of time just to get me into the system. About six months after I started working with them I final got to the stage were I started getting paid for projects. During this time I created a pretty good relationship with the group.

My first two checks were sent out, and I waited. A couple days after the checks were sent the company I am consulting for got a mysterious call. Someone called and said they had my checks and had accidentally opened up the envelopes and then proceeded to let them know they are an engineering firm and asked them what kind of work I was doing for them (never gave them their name. Well the person they talked to was in accounting and she didn't know anything. She tried to forward them on to my contact and the gentleman said he would send my checks back and no he didn't want to talk to him and hung up. At this time I had no idea who had the checks. the company I was working with called me and told me what they new and that if they don't receive the checks back they would cancel them and reissue new ones.

 They didn't show, I waited a week and then went and talked to the post office. Come to find they were delivered to the wrong engineering firm. The shopping complex I am located in there is actually two engineering firms. So the company reissued new checks and were pretty freaked out with the whole situation. About 3 months later the old checks finally showed up. They showed up with the other consulting companies name and advertising brochures all included in the return mail.

I was pretty shocked with me being a new start up and this happened.

What should I have done? I did nothing!

Obviously the other engineering company really screwed up opening my mail. But then they didn't return the mail for three months and also called my customer.

patprimmer (Publican)
15 Feb 12 10:08
Well first of you needed proof before you could do anything. I'm not sure you had enough proof until the cheques where returned.

I don't know your laws in your jurisdiction, but I suspect it is illegal to open other peoples mail. It is certainly unethical and I would have reported it to the local licensing board or whatever.

See FAQ731-376: Forum Policies for tips on use of eng-tips by professional engineers &
for site rules

fasboater (Structural) (OP)
15 Feb 12 10:21
Here is some of what they sent back. I removed all the names except for mine.

ewh (Aerospace)
15 Feb 12 10:22
I agree with Pat... while you probably can't do anything legally about their inquiries, you can make them very uncomfortable for committing a federal offense.

Technically, the glass is always  full.

MiketheEngineer (Structural)
15 Feb 12 10:33
The Post Office Inspectors would be a help - if it happens again.  They get all over this kind of stuff.

One time is an accident - two times is probably plain theft or stupidity - and three times you are out!!
patprimmer (Publican)
15 Feb 12 10:38
If some people see you as afraid of confrontation, they will use that to bully or exploit you.

Certainly don't go looking for confrontation, but don't be seen to avoid it if challenged or treated badly.

See FAQ731-376: Forum Policies for tips on use of eng-tips by professional engineers &
for site rules

Helpful Member!  casseopeia (Structural)
15 Feb 12 11:17
You can file a complaint, and should, with your local postmaster general.  Opening someone else's mail is a FEDERAL offense.  Maybe they didn't try to cash the checks, but they delayed your payment.  And then to have the gall to turn around and try to steal the client away is beyond unethical.  I'd send those guys a strongly worded letter and let them know that they can be found guilty of engaging in tortious interference (see link).  If found guilty of a felony, I imagine they can lose their business license.  UNBELIEVABLE!

"Gorgeous hair is the best revenge."  Ivana Trump

Helpful Member!  zdas04 (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 11:44
When I worked for a big company, the mail room policy was to open every piece of mail, and deposit any checks that day.  In a situation like you describe (someone at the post office made a simple mistake), the company would send the accompanying information to SOMEONE (it seemed to be random) and eventually the person within my company who got it dumped on them would realize that we had cashed someone else's check.  I was the "someone" a few times and I always called the person immediately, forwarded their mail (with a check drawn on our company, since the original was already in our account), with a letter explaining what had happened.  No one was ever happy about the process, but most were understanding and no one ever threatened legal action over opening their mail.  Our attorney said it wasn't illegal to open misdirected mail, which is different from misappropriated mail.

Ask yourself, "if this had been a liquor store that received your mail and held it for three months and then spent a stamp returning it would you be as upset?".  My guess is probably not.  Once the engineering firm had realized their mistake, they called your client (maybe unethical, but pretty stupid since they called accounting instead of someone who could give them useful information), it is easy to say that they were just trying to find the right XYZ Engineering to return it to since the address on the envelope obviously was wrong or they wouldn't have been involved in the first place.

Were I you, I would call them and say thank you for returning the check.  Just that.  No threats.  No questions.  Just "thank you".

fasboater (Structural) (OP)
15 Feb 12 12:00

In your liquor store analogy, your right I wouldn't be upset. On the other hand I don't think the liquor store would send my customer their advertising info. Who does that?

In reference to the mailing address, it was correct. The postman misplaced mail and told me he did so. I sat with the postmaster and he told me I should report it to the postmaster general as well.

Also this is not a big company. He has a gaming store in the front of his building and does engineering out of that.

casseopeia (Structural)
15 Feb 12 12:06
zdas04, I'd buy the whole accidental thing if they only discovered the mistake when trying to deposit the checks, or if they had immediately returned them.  But they called and solicited the client and then sat on those checks for three months.  And when they finally got around to sending the checks back they enclose their own brochures when they could easily have WALKED RIGHT DOWN TO FASBOATER'S OFFICE because they are located in the same freaking mall.  Nope, I'm not buying the accidental opening and the oops, we forgot to return the checks but didn't forget to enclose our own marketing collateral.  Nope, I'm calling BS on this one.  

fasboater, I'd consider getting a PO box.  Definitely make a formal complaint with the post office.  It's really not that big of a deal, a couple of forms.  If nothing else, it might make the mail carrier a bit more careful.

"Gorgeous hair is the best revenge."  Ivana Trump

btrueblood (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 12:43
I agree with zdas.  I hardly ever look at the address on my mail (more so now that the boys are getting their own mail re colleges and whatnot) before opening it.  

The company sending the check should have cancelled them immediately upon hearing they were lost, and issued you new checks.  If I'd been them, I'd have asked you to come in personally and pick them up, rather than risk having them misdirected again.  The payor should even have given you new checks had the originals been fraudulently or mistakenly deposited by the recipient.  

Fraud?  You have to prove intent.  You have no basis - the guy didn't try to spend your money, just didn't make much effort to return the checks (but he's not obligated to by anything but courtesy, and who's to say he didn't get a snippy reception from the other company's accountant-type?).  He's trying to make a buck, just like you are.  HE didn't misdirect the mail, and why should he waste his time to search you down?  Had he cashed the check, he would be under some obligation to correct the error, but he didn't - he'd be within his rights to paper his wall, or wipe his heiny with your check, it's not yours anymore, and it should have been worthless paper once you and your payor realized that the checks never arrived.  He's also got a right to send his brochure to anybody he wants, and the post office has a federal mandate to deliver them.

In the last days of my Dad's business, probably as a result of early Alzheimer's, but even before that:  we had so many customers, and so many outstanding bills, that it would sometimes take him several days to recall which jobs certain checks were supposed to be paying for.  Made worse sometimes when business owners would pay by personal check, or vice versa, or have the wife write a check on her account.  Drove my Mom (Dad's accountant) nuts, and sometimes she'd just throw up her hands and deposit the check, and figure they'd work it out if there were problems down the road.

Before you get too bent out of shape, go talk to the guy.  At the very least, you'll know whose face to avoid at the bar on Friday nights.
MintJulep (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 12:47
The USPS is unreliable.

Mail goes to the wrong place, or goes missing entirely all the time.  Most times you'll never even know unless it's something that you are expecting.

Enclose a pre-paid FedEx shipping label with your invoices, and insist that checks be sent by FedEx in the future.  Or better yet arrange for direct bank transfer.

Other than that, it seems a case of no harm, no foul.

The other company did the right thing in forwarding the incorrectly delivered mail - albeit rather slowly.

They don't seem to be an actual engineering company, rather they appear to be matchmakers - matching projects to contract engineers.  Take a walk down and talk to them.  You might even get some future work for your trouble.
btrueblood (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 12:49
Ok, one last thing, on a tangential note.  I used to get really upset as a fresh-minted engineer working for a large defense contractor.  All may mail arrived opened.

Looking into it further, it was the mail-room guy's job to log the contents of my mail.  So, not only was he opening it, he had to read it too.

Sounds illegal?

It's not.  Not even for small businesses.  In my particular case, it was a mandate put in place by a government contract - the government wanted to make sure that people in the company were not receiving kickbacks from vendors.  This was one way to deal with it, and it was some bean-counter's job to go through the mail logs and verify anything questionable.
IRstuff (Aerospace)
15 Feb 12 12:51
Accidentally opening someone's mail is one thing.  Reading it and then trying to poach someone else's customers is something else.  If nothing else, it indicates that you should NEVER attempt to do business with them, because they have no ethics to speak of.

This reminds me of a sales guy that took me to lunch one day.  He drove, and the restaurant's parking lot was brimming, and the only obviously open spots were handicap.  He then said, Oh, that's not a problem," and pulled out a handicap parking tag to hang on his mirror.  I never did business with him again.

FAQ731-376: Forum Policies

IRstuff (Aerospace)
15 Feb 12 12:52
I agree with the PO box approach; that also solves any potential theft of packages, but it does increase the amount of time and travel you expend to deal with mail.

FAQ731-376: Forum Policies

rowingengineer (Structural)
15 Feb 12 12:53
I would walk around the shopping complex until I go to the other engineer office, walk in and ask to speak to whomever is in charge. I would then have a good old word to whomever came to the font area to talk to me, probably the office manager but who cares. I would make it very clear that I am unhappy and if I didn't get a full apology and some kind of gentlemens agreement that they wouldn't peruse my client then I would start to think of the next step.
"Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning."

rowingengineer (Structural)
15 Feb 12 12:59
if you struggle with this type of confrontation, take a friend whom likes this type of situation. go in hard and low, make them feel like they have upset the apple cart so much by putting in the advertising material.
"Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning."

zdas04 (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 13:17
I've got a P.O. box and I get other people's mail in it a couple times a month.  The P.O. has a procedure where they say to just push it out the back of the box (where it is possible to slide under a bin).  P.O. Box is not much of an answer, but I can get my mail whenever I want.

MiketheEngineer (Structural)
15 Feb 12 13:26
And while we are at it - Why did the BANK cash the check when it was obviously meant for someone else??

That is probably a stupid question -- I once put Mickey Mouse on the Pay To line and they cashed it!!  And no - it wasn't meant for Mickey Mouse.
zdas04 (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 16:17
The sleazeball firm did not cash the check, but if they had tried I'm certain that they could have deposited it into their account.  Big companies do it every day.  The bank has a little gadget that the bottom of the check runs through and gets the amount imprinted with the paying account number--nothing automated to verify the name or receiving account number at all.  People are supposed to do that, but at my branch there hasn't been a teller last more than 3 months in 5 years.

zdas04 (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 16:22
I just read that people often make political statements on the "To" portion of their tax checks.  It has apparently become popular to make tax payments out to "Thieving Bastards".  Feels good, but the IRS has no problem cashing them.

Helpful Member!(3)  btrueblood (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 16:44
"Accidentally opening someone's mail is one thing.  Reading it and then trying to poach someone else's customers is something else.  "

How would you know the mail was mis-addressed, having not checked the envelope, unless you read it?

So the real problem is that the guy put his brochure in the envelope, and paid 39 cents to mail it and some worthless paper back to the original sender.  Look at it from his point of view: he's being a nice guy by cleaning up somebody else's mess.  He could have done nothing and tossed the checks.  He could have cashed them (knowingly or unknowingly) and made a bigger mess, and you could have waited a lot longer than 3 months before the mess got sorted and you got your money.  Instead he stuck the equivalent of his "business card" in the envelope, as a way to say "this is who is sending your crap back to you"

But, if his intentions were as bad as you SUSPECT them to be - since when is soliciting customers an evil thing to do for a business?  

Let's say the guy really did poach the job you wanted away from you - can you prove it, if the company didn't actually offer the job to you in the first place?  And why would you want to work for a company that would play that kind of game, wouldn't you say good riddance to the both of them?

The only way to find out if the guy is a sleazeball is to meet him and talk to him, or wait for him to steal your job, then your truck, wife, and which point you are primed to write a country-western song.
patprimmer (Publican)
15 Feb 12 17:02
Here, even if the recipient countersigns the back of the check with a pay to XXX the bank will not deposit it in any account except the recipient. The person signing the cheque over to you has to personally go to the bank with you with photo ID and sign it over at the counter in front of the teller. Thank god they will still use obvious alternate names, like my account is Patrick J Primmer. They still deposit cheques made to Pat Primmer or PJ Primmer or P Primmer, but that's about it.

See FAQ731-376: Forum Policies for tips on use of eng-tips by professional engineers &
for site rules

Helpful Member!  Ron (Structural)
15 Feb 12 18:42
I have been in my present office for almost 4 years.  The previous tenant moved 3 bldgs down in the same office park.  We have the same mailperson.  I got almost all of their mail for the 1st couple of months I was there.  I took it to them on a weekly basis and asked them each time to make sure they had filed a change of address/forwarding form.

I spoke with the mailperson and told her to please not deliver any mail to my office that wasn't addressed to my firm, myself or my partner and gave her all the names.

The short of it...I still get their mail routinely.  

As for your issue...the engineering firm acted unethically, but zdas04's solution is the proper way to handle it.  If you really want to dig a little, take their brochures with you when you go in person to thank them for returning your checks, give the brochures back and tell them that you don't need them and you know they cost money to produce so you brought them back.  They will get the message that their ploy did not work.
btrueblood (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 19:06
"the engineering firm acted unethically"

How?  By doing what exactly, returning some mail?  

"They called the company too" > from the OP...

Right - but were they just trying to confirm an address, or were they actively soliciting work?  And were they soliciting for YOUR work?  How can your know what their intent was in calling, unless somebody at the original (paying) company told you so, and isn't that a bigger breach of ethics?
btrueblood (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 19:12
Oh and I love this:

"I was pretty shocked with me being a new start up and this happened."

So the rules of business (and life in general) are different because you're a newbie?  Yes, the money was important to the OP, and cash is tight when you're starting out.  It's the same way for everybody starting a new business, and enough books have been written about the problem that you should've known what to expect, and planned to eat beans and rice for awhile.  If cash was that tight, you probably could have arranged for a second check after the first 30 days had passed, by visiting the shop owner and pleading your case with the owner - he was there once too, and you could have played that card.

This is the real world.  Mistakes happen.  People here are awfully quick to assume evil intent over what amounts to (in any business I've ever worked in) a pretty ho-hum matter.

KENAT (Mechanical)
15 Feb 12 22:20
How about, walk the 100 paces over their, introduce your self, say you understand there had been some mix up with the mail and give them you phone number/business card so they can call you next time to come pick it up as it's apparently difficult for them to come over to your side of the parking lot.

Also give them a wad of your flyers/business cards etc. for them to mail out with their out going mail.

Then see what happens.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Forum Policies (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

CANPRO (Structural)
16 Feb 12 7:59
I'm not 100% sure about the laws, but I agree with btrueblood, he probably could have just done nothing and prolonged your problems. And looking at what you posted about his company, and looking at your website (excellent website by the way) it seems you two aren't offerening the same services, so him sending info to your client doesn't seem like that big of a deal. You say he has a gaming store where he runs his business...makes sense why it took 3 months for him to send the cheque, he was probably distracted by all of the flashing lights...anyway, you should probably just go have a friendly conversation with him, the longer you let 'what you think will happen' build up in your head the harder its going to be to talk to him. Goodluck!  
chemebabak (Chemical)
22 Feb 12 18:52
Opening mail is not illegal.  Stealing mail is.

For clarification, it is illegal to steal mail from another person's (entity's) mail box (18 USC 1702).  It is not illegal, however, to open mail addressed to someone else delivered to you.  It even is not illegal to open mail addressed to someone else, with that someone else's address on the envelope, accidentally delivered to you.  The law concerns only the opening mail taken prior to legal delivery.  

For example, it is not illegal to open mail addressed to John Smith at 22 Main St if it is delivered to Jim Jones at 22 Main St.  It is not illegal to open mail addressed to John Smith at 22 Main St accidentally delivered to Jenny Smith at 322 Main St.  It is illegal, however, for John Smith to open the mailbox and 122 Main St and take any mail, even if that mail is addressed to John Smith.  

Ethics are different than law.  It is not unethical to open someone else's mail legally delivered to you.  It is not unethical to keep an envelope accidentally delivered to 25 Main St addressed to 22 Main St, but that is common courtesy.  Folks do not have any ethical obligation to make an effort to mark an envelope "Return to Sender, Addressee does not live here", but it is common courtesy.  It most certainly would be unethical to open the mail and try to cash those checks or steal private information, such as date of birth and social security number.  Not only would that be unethical, it most definitely would be illegal under fraud and identity theft laws.

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