(source: The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General)

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While many American companies are switching to paperless billing and electronic receipts, one group wants to bring back the option to get physical bills and receipts without having to pay extra for them. 

The “Keep Me Posted” campaign is fighting for consumers’ right to get paper bills and receipts at no cost. 

“It’s not just bills and statements. What we have seen now is even health insurance companies, that had traditionally sent the explanations of benefits” are using electronic billing, said Jim Haigh, communications director for Keep Me Posted.  

“After you go to a doctor or get a test, you’ll get something in the mail that explains, ‘OK, here, here’s what was done. Here’s what it costs your insurance company.’ You can look over it. Those had always been paper. Now we’ve seen insurance companies moving that over to paperless billing.” 

Haigh said there are plenty of reasons people might not want to get their bills and receipts through email or online – including not trusting a digital copy of the document. 

According to a Consumer Action Survey in 2019, consumers worry about viruses, phishing and errors, as well as the electronic security of their information. 

But for some of those in rural areas, Haigh said, it’s not about the documents being electronic, but that they can’t gain access to the internet to get the bills and receipts in the first place. 

A recent study by the Pew Research Center on Internet and Technology found that home broadband in rural areas lags in rural areas. In 2019, 65% of rural homes had broadband access, compared to 75% of urban homes and 79% of suburban homes. 

Lack of both infrastructure and income contribute to the rural, urban, and suburban digital divide. 

“For many of us who are on limited incomes, or do not have regular internet service, it is not a practical way to pay our bills. To have to pay for internet service every month just to pay bills is too expensive for me, as well as I really do not know how to use it, one commenter wrote on the organization’s website. 

Proponents of paperless billing say the practice is good for the environment, speeds up delivery time, and reduces mail fraud. It also reduces costs because companies don’t have to print statements and mail them.

But some companies are starting to charge fees for customers who continue to use traditional paper billing, Haigh said. “You shouldn’t be charged a fee to get a bill.”  

The organization is pushing corporations to give consumers the option to go paperless, instead of pushing them away from printed receipts. 

“It’s not just fees that are being assessed. What we have seen over the last year is that in addition to charging exorbitant fees, companies are starting to now actually just force their consumers into digital,” Haigh said. “And if they don’t, some are giving them no choice at all. Others are sending emails that say ‘If you don’t reply back instantaneously or in very short order, we’ll switch you to paperless billing,’ and consumers have to opt back in to get paper billing.”

The switch to electronic devices could lead to problems with people either opting into phishing scams, or ignoring important information. 

“Recently, we filed comments on behalf of consumers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a proceeding about how debt collectors can go after and chase debt,” Haigh said. “Normally a debt collector is part of a process that starts with mailing a notice to let you know ‘This is what we believe you owe, and these are what your rights are.’ The CFPB is considering allowing them to just send a text or email to any address on file.”

For Haigh the problems are complex – if a consumer ignores a text like that, which is what guidance from the Federal Trade Commission says you should do – then you risk not seeing an alleged debt and losing your rights to fight it. But if you read the text, you risk being infected with ransomware, scams, and other digital problems. 

“If you didn’t actually read it and reply back that you don’t know what this is and contest it, that could result in a summary judgment in court in a legal proceeding against you,” Haigh said. 

For the Keep Me Posted group, the most important things right now are to educate consumers on the issue, and push companies to make paperless billing an option, instead of a forced form of communication. 

Haigh said the organization is working with companies to make them aware of the issue and help them with best practices to make paperless an option. Additionally, he said, the organization is working with consumers who come to them with issues and concerns. 

“We give (consumers) different tools, including letters that they can write themselves to communicate their feelings to companies,” he said. “We have had a few fees waived by their banks and have also been able to reverse the automatic switching companies have put in place and helped consumers to switch them back and bring them back to paper.” 

More information is available at www.keepmepostedna.org