Dear Money Helps: A year ago I flew to Florida to bury my mother and handle her estate. I went to a Staples store to ship 10 boxes of antiques and sentimental items to my home via UPS. I insured each box for $500. Four arrived damaged, and priceless heirlooms were broken. I filed claims for $400 with UPS but I've never been paid. No luck with Staples either. Can you help? - Nancy Mathias, Richardson, Texas
Answer: This was a sad errand for you and a sorry case of miscommunication by the vendors. The last thing you needed was to get a damage-claims runaround. What happened? Basically you got caught between two companies: UPS, which transported your goods, and Staples, which packed them and served as an outlet for UPS services. Since Staples sent the boxes, UPS considers it the customer, not you. (I know, the logic is kooky.) So when you complained, UPS sent your paperwork to Staples for further investigation.
But Staples returned a claim for only one of the four boxes, and UPS denied that one because the packing was improper. (UPS requires that a box must have two inches of packing material around the contents; apparently yours didn't.) UPS hot-potatoed the claim - and the blame - back to the office-supply retailer, which had packed the box.
I asked Staples spokeswoman Amy Shanler to find out why the company hadn't processed payment - or the other three claims. Seems the store neglected to collect all the information needed, and your paperwork collected dust on someone's desk. Abashed, she expedited your $400 reimbursement.
Shipping companies don't make it easy to collect insurance claims; once they have your money they aren't eager to part with it. But you have a better shot at getting money back by eliminating the middleman. Next time you send something fragile or irreplaceable, pack the box yourself - call ahead to find out the requirements - and go directly to the shipper. Jim Hood of ConsumerAffairs.com advises air shipping over ground, because your package will be handled less. The cost will be higher, but your memories are worth it.