The fundamental role of a virtual mailbox service is to help you manage your mail remotely.
A key step in this process is turning your physical mail into digitized, virtual mail. This allows you to view the mail online, and therefore manage it from any location you may be as long as it has an internet connection.
So how does this process work? How does your physical mail become virtual mail for you to view anywhere in the world?
That’s what we will look at today.
So strap yourself in, and let’s go on a little tour of your average mailbox service to see how the magic happens.
Turning Physical Mail To Virtual Mail
1. Physical Mail arriving at your virtual address
The first step is for the mail to get into the hands of your service provider.
There are a few ways this can happen. First and foremost, the mail actually arrives at the location of your virtual address.
In the case of a company such as US Global Mail, this address is their head office and sorting facilities. Your physical mail will immediately be available for scanning, (more on this below).
A company like Earth Class Mail has a different approach. It provides 100s of virtual addresses.
When your physical mail is addressed and sent to your chosen virtual address, it doesn’t always end up there.
This is because the provider operates as a commercial mail receiving agency. This means that Earth Class Mail has a special relationship with the United States Postal Office.
This is a priority forwarding service, where Instead of the mail arriving at the virtual address, it is rerouted through the companies network so it goes directly to the sorting center in Beaverton, Oregon.
Essentially, this speeds up the process so that your physical mail can be managed faster.
A third, more cumbersome way is that the physical mail is delivered to your virtual address. In instances where that address has sorting facilities, it will be promptly scanned.
If there are no such facilities at the address, the mail is rerouted to the provider’s nearest hub for processing. This of course adds an extra day or two to the time it takes for you to be notified of new mail.
2. The sorting and scanning process of your physical mail
By now, our item of physical mail has arrived at a facility where it can be scanned and managed.
There are a few processes in place here. Firstly, most mailbox providers will filter through incoming mail so that junk mail is removed. This is then sent for recycling.
Other items go through for tracking and scanning.
Providers have different methods of tagging each item so it can be tracked and the account owner easily identified. Most will use a unique barcode that can be read by the providers’ internal mail management system and network.
Once it has been tagged, the exterior of the item is scanned. The image is then uploaded into your account for you to view.
You’ll receive an alert (email, app notification, text message) to say a new item has arrived. You log in to your account, see the image of the envelope and make your decision on what action should be taken.
If you decide on shredding and/or recycling, that’s exactly what will happen. Choose for the item to be opened scanned, and you have a whole new step.
3. Physical Mail into digitized virtual mail
At this stage, the physical mail is opened and the contents scanned so that you can view the item remotely.
From the request of the action to the scan reaching your account dashboard can sometimes take a few hours.
Also, it could be that you are not in a position to view the digitized image of the contents once it is available.
Either way, after scanning the mail is placed back inside its original envelope and securely stored while your mailbox provider waits on your instructions on what should happen next.
Most providers will store your item for free for around 30 days, (US Global Mail offers a lot longer with their business plans allowing up to 180-day of free storage).
How is your physical mail kept safe during this process?
All mailbox providers treat the subject of security very seriously when it comes to their customer’s physical mail.
If they didn’t they wouldn’t be in business for very long.
It is worthwhile checking the details of your chosen provider to see what measures are in place, however, the following is relatively common among the major services.
1. Onsite security and 24/7 with video surveillance
This level of security exists both for exterior issues, (break-ins, etc) and inside the main processing areas.
This means that the staff trusted with opening and managing your mail on your behalf, cannot do anything untoward.
2. Restricted Areas
Also, mail sorting areas are restricted so that only relevant personnel is allowed inside. These areas are also under 24/7 video surveillance.
3. HIPAA-certified mail technicians
Furthermore, the staff members allowed to open and sort your mail are HIPAA-certified technicians. No one else will get close to your private correspondence.
4. Tracking and barcodes
As mentioned above, another measure most providers will have so that your mail stays secure and doesn’t get misplaced is tracking codes.
If a wayward item turns up in the sorting office, a simple scan of the barcode will reveal which account it belongs to.
And there you have it, the journey of your physical mail as it turns into virtual mail. The process of the virtual mailbox sorting office is explained.
I’m a 25 year veteran of USPS. I’m retired now, but as the editor of Mailbox Master, I can’t quite remove myself from the carrier industry just yet. 🙂