Recently, I purchased something online and was presented with some different payment options. Apart from the normal choices (credit card, bank transfer, check) was "cash" — yes, cash. I puzzled about why anyone would prefer to mail cash, especially to another country. Then I read the note: paying by check or credit card involves extra fees that can be eliminated with a cash payment. "Make sure it's concealed securely; it would be wise to wrap the money in paper," the site suggested.

Well. Saving $10 or so sounded nice, and the postal service has had a pretty good track record of not screwing up, so I went for it. Or so I thought.

I strolled down to the local branch of the USPS to mail my not-yet-concealed cash payment, and promptly made the mistake of talking too much. I asked the friendly postal worker about the most secure way to send money overseas.

"You can't. It's a felony."

"What?" I asked.

"It is against the law to use the USPS to send money," he replied in a completely serious, don't mess with me, I work for the government tone of voice. Now why on earth would they make something as innocuous as this an offense? I was feeling a bit defiant at the moment, so I went for it.

"Why on earth would that be illegal?"

It was apparently a slow day at the ol' post office, since he didn't try to get rid of me right then. "You can't mail cash. Don't do it."

The more he didn't want to tell me, the more I wanted to know. "What is a law like that supposed to accomplish?" I prodded. Nothing, just another rehash of the same few sentences. He was a Talky Tina doll, and I was the little kid pulling at the string. I gave up and decided to have some lunch.

About an hour later, when I was pretty confident he wouldn't still be there, I came back. Sure enough, he was gone. I got in line and pretended to be extremely interested in the change of address form on the table. My turn came, and I looked the lady in the eye. She must have had about ten grandchildren. She'll have some common sense, I thought. "Hi, what's a good way to send money? I want to be sure it gets where it's going."

"You can't mail cash. It's a felony."

Are these people robots?! "Um... do you happen to know why?"

"That's how the law works. Sorry."

I gave up, went home, wrapped my cash in about seven sheets of notebook paper, stuffed it in an envelope, and went back to the post office to mail my harmless, completely legal letter, all the while contemplating all the people who send birthday cards with $5 or $10 stuffed in them, or the person with a pen pal in Spain who just wants to see an American dollar. These people are outlaws, and most of them don't even know.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and what follows is not legal advice. It is my humble, civilian, undergraduate-philosophy-student opinion. If you want a legal opinion, hire a lawyer.


Even before learning of the widespread belief among postal customers—and bafflingly, inexcusably, inexplicably, postal employees themselves—that it is "a felony to mail cash", I never would have trusted the US postal system with anything important. But having heard that some postal employees believe it to be "a felony to mail cash", I looked into it, and now that I've done so, I am even less willing to deal with the USPS, on the few occasions that I have the choice.

That's because unless I am missing something really important;

It is NOT a felony to mail cash; it ain't even a misdemeanor.

According to the United States Postal Service web site, under the Frequently Asked Questions section, it is perfectly permissible to send cash through the mail, to wit:

Q: Can I mail cash?

A:
You may send cash through the mailing system. However, we recommend using personal checks or money orders when transmitting funds for any reason. If you prefer to send cash you should take advantage of our registry service, which provides maximum security and indemnity against loss.

The USPS is a government corporation, endeavoring to turn a profit. It is also free of competition when it comes to regular letters, and so, it is in some ways a monopoly. Perhaps the USPS is not sufficiently motivated to dispell this mythical law which seems to circulate authoritatively among its employees, as its existence would doubtlessly support the sale of USPS money orders. (On the other hand, they could make even more money by selling registered mail services, so the only thing I can think of to explain the persistence of the myth is ignorance. Or maybe postal employees don't have the same access to the internet that I have?)

Although it really isn't a good idea to mail cash—I mean, do you really want to trust those people?!—I still can't find any legitimate evidence that it is illegal. A Google search just turns up repeated incantations of the same urban legend, with no reference to specific US or state laws, postal regulations, or policy language. It's kind of a religious belief, if you ask me. Please correct me if you can cite a U.S. law or postal regulation to the contrary.

If your parcel or envelope is refused outright because you've declared that it contains cash, get the name of the clerk, and complain to the Postmaster.


Source:
USPS Web Site, FAQ section, at
http://www.usps.com/homearea/faqs/welcome.htm
Search on the term "cash".

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