A post office box, often called a PO or P.O. box, is a mailbox located in a central post office where you can opt to receive all or most of your mail. It is normally rented for a small fee on a monthly or yearly basis, and customers can choose to have their mail routed to the PO box, or merely give the number as their address. In some countries, having one is the only means by which you can receive mail, because delivery of mail may not cover all outlying or rural areas.
While many people rent a post office box at a government run post office, others may choose to have one at private mailing centers. Mailing or packaging companies can rent private boxes to individuals. They may impose restrictions on what can be delivered to them. For instance, if you receive a large package that won’t fit in your box, the company may refuse to accept it, which means you have to travel to the post office, or delivery service office to pick it up. Generally, the post office will accept packages for you that won’t fit in your box, and you merely need to wait in line and pick them up at the counter.
There can be some great reasons for renting a post office box. If you run a business from your home, you can use it to separate your private mail from your business mail. Alternately, if you have a strong Internet presence but want to maintain some anonymity when receiving mail, it withholds your physical address from anyone who might send you mail. If people travel frequently, they may also want to rent a PO box to collect their mail, although you can alternately ask the post office to hold your mail or have a neighbor collect it from your box.
The post office box also presents a way from people to receive secure mail, since it is only accessible by mail carriers and by your key or combination. If you live in an area where mail gets stolen, it can help to have a box in order to make sure you receive all your mail. Additionally, if you work near a local post office, it may be simply more convenient to pick up your mail near your work rather than at your residence.
Unfortunately, some people use the PO box to commit fraud. They may send out dummy or phony credit card offers in order to gather people’s identity information and steal it. People may also send phony offers and scams and require you to respond to a PO address in order to steal money from strangers. Before you order anything, or respond to a credit card application, it’s a good idea to get the phone number of the company, verify it is a real company, and confirm the address given for responses.
In the US, certain types of applications have to state your physical, not your post office box, address. Applications for Social Security cards, passports and, in many states, driver’s licenses will not be approved without supplying a physical address.