To millions of Americans who, for years, have encountered difficulties in receiving packages scheduled for delivery by the United Parcel Service, it arguably came as little surprise when an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently revealed that UPS has not delivered an actual package since 2008.
The FBI investigation into UPS's "black hole" of parcel deliveries was spurred in 2009, when a brave 28-year-old UPS deliveryman in New York City, Bernard Nelson, approached the Bureau with some startling news: approximately one year earlier, he'd been instructed by his supervisor, Rick Jennings to stop trying to deliver packages.
Says Nelson, "I went to Rick because I was having trouble connecting with the people I was trying to deliver packages to. I'd show up at around 11 a.m. on a Monday morning, for instance, and no one would be home to accept delivery and give the required signature. I'd leave the usual notice saying that a delivery attempt had been made, and that another one would be made the next day. But then I'd come back the next day and no one would be home again. That pattern kept repeating itself."
After months of encountering this same phenomenon, which often resulted in a package's being returned to the sender, it occurred to Nelson that some scheduled delivery recipients might work during the day, in which case they would not be able to accept delivery and sign off on a package as required on any weekday - regardless of how many delivery attempts were made.
When Nelson expressed this concern to his supervisor, however, Jennings told him, "Don't worry about it. Stop trying to deliver packages and just leave delivery attempt notices."
Nelson was uncomfortable with such a hands-off approach to parcel delivery.
He explains, "I joined UPS because I like to stay active, and I liked the satisfaction of hauling like a 40-pound box to some fifth-floor apartment on the Upper East Side and seeing the grateful look on the person's face when I personally delivered this package they'd been waiting for. This 'leave a notice' thing was a farce. All I was actually delivering was pieces of paper that falsely represented to people that we were trying to get them their stuff. Which we weren't!"
Nevertheless, Nelson participated in the delivery sham for about eight months. But a turning point came one day after he had a near-collision in his brown UPS truck. Nelson was rounding a street corner at a speed within the posted speed limit but pushing the truck's upper velocity limits - which would have been fine had the truck been weighed down by the typical 300 - 700 pounds of packages it normally carried in the cargo area. However, as Nelson explains, the only thing in the cargo bed was little pieces of paper.
"That totally screwed up the truck's center of gravity," says Nelson. "I came this close to flipping over."
Following that incident, Nelson went straight to the FBI. While FBI agents were overtly skeptical when Nelson first contacted them to blow the whistle on UPS's parcel delivery fraud, it soon became apparent that Nelson was onto something big.
FBI detective Joanne Moore recounted the tale of one customer, who she claims is typical of UPS's female clientele.
"This girl had a thing for UPS deliverymen; she thought they were hot. So after she missed a few delivery attempts, she wanted to make sure she didn't miss the final delivery. She skipped work and stayed home in her apartment the entire day, but no one ever buzzed her or called her. And yet, later that night, she saw someone had left a delivery attempt notice. It was obvious they hadn't really tried."
As the FBI eventually discovered, UPS's actual delivery services halted in 2008, when the financial crisis made it more financially feasible for the company to deliver delivery attempt notices than to deliver actual parcels. Fuel costs and personnel expenses were lower, and customers who really wanted their parcels had access to complex UPS computer tracking systems which allowed them to feel that they had some control over the delivery process and which served to distract them from the fact that no parcels were forthcoming. Customers were also given the option of paying an additional $10 fee to select a specific delivery time; in such cases, UPS would post a fourth delivery attempt notice.
At this point, UPS's future is unclear. Rating agencies have downgraded UPS stock from AAA (the highest possible rating) to a mere A-. It is speculated, however, that UPS will soon merge with the company that makes Post-It brand products.
As UPS CEO Scott Davis points out, "People may be complaining about our delivery services, but no one's ever faulted our delivery attempt notices, which adhere very strongly to doorways and mailboxes. It might be time for a change in focus."