The United States Postal Service has introduced a new service that you may — or may not — find useful. Informed Delivery lets you preview the front exterior of incoming mail on your computer or phone; you can also track packages and leave delivery instructions for those packages.

This isn’t something that the USPS has developed just for its customers. According to an FAQ on the post office’s site, the USPS is already creating digital images of the front of your letter-sized mail; however, it is now making those images available to customers before the mail is actually delivered.

Once you’ve signed up for the service, and your address has been verified, you will receive an email from the USPS with up to ten grayscale images of the front of any letters that are on their way. If you’ve got more than ten pieces of mail coming, you can see them all using the online dashboard. You’ll also get a list of packages, along with their tracking numbers.

How useful is this service? Quite frankly, not very. If you’re anxious for a particular piece of mail or a package to show up, the service can let you know the day it’s arriving. It also might be handy if you have a post box and would like to be informed when you have mail there. On the other hand, if you see that you’ve gotten a mysterious letter from the IRS, you can spend the rest of the day worrying about what it says.

However, if you would like to try out Informed Delivery, here’s how to do it.

  • Go to informeddelivery.usps.com and click on the button “Sign Up For Free.”
  • You’ll be asked to fill in your address to find out whether you can use the service. There are two criteria: your ZIP code area must be eligible, and your individual mailbox must be uniquely coded (this may not be the case for some apartment buildings, according to the USPS).
  • If you are eligible, you will then be invited to create an account with a username and password.
  • Now that you’ve created the account, the USPS wants to make sure you really live at that address. At first, you’ll get two options: to verify your address via your mobile phone, or to have the post office send paper mail with a code that you can then enter to complete the verification process.
  • I opted to verify via my phone. Unfortunately, my phone number was not recognized by the USPS, and I was instead given a third option: to visit a local post office and verify my address in person. If that’s the way you want to go, click on “Visit a Post Office.”
  • You will then be presented with a list of eligible post offices where you can verify for Informed Delivery. If you want to visit one that isn’t near your home, you can type in a different address to find out where the nearest is. (Note: Not all post offices are equipped for verification.)
  • When you know where you want to go, click on “Continue to In-Person Verification”
  • The next screen will have a barcode on it that you can show to the person at the post office; you’ll also be sent an email with that barcode. The barcode will be useful for 30 days.
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Once you’ve been verified, it will probably take two or three days for the services to kick in. After that, you will receive an email each morning showing you what you can expect in your mailbox when you get home from work or school.

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