Periodically requests might come through from a prospective client to receive mail on their behalf, and forward it on, as instructed, because they’re out of the country.
I believe this request could be fraught with problems, and possibly danger, and is one that should be handled with the utmost care and a lot of thought. Irrespective of your need, as a VA, to grow your client base, there are some client requests that should be handled with caution or declined.
A recent request came from a client I’d never heard of or met before, was from another state, but currently overseas, and wanted me (or one of my team) to receive packages for him, and forward them on to addresses he would email to me, around 2-5 times a week. They had to be posted on the same day received. He said they were marketing materials in boxes but had also mentioned mobile phones in an earlier part of his email. He also wanted mail to be scanned and emailed to him as his post office box was due for renewal very soon and he wanted to let it expire. Plus take phone messages for him.
While this request may seem very innocent to him, there have been many cases in the past of VAs (not necessarily here in Australia but in the US and elsewhere) who have gotten caught in the middle of something illegal and because they had been passing on such items they became an accessory to the crime. This is not a position I want to put myself or any of my team into. So I declined the client request and suggested he use a mailing centre such as www.mbe.com.au who is set up to handle mail on behalf of their clients. They provide other services too which I’m sure would suit this client, providing his request was genuine and innocent.
I explained to him that I’d made it a rule never to receive mail on behalf of someone I didn’t know personally and I hope he understood. But that we could provide many other services as VAs which usually means providing computer based support services (word-processing, data entry, phone answering, telemarketing, website maintenance, newsletters, database management, etc) but generally we don’t act as a mail collection point for clients, especially if there is no prior working relationship.
When is it ok to receive mail on behalf of a client? When you already have a working relationship with that person or prior knowledge of that person. I do receive mail for a couple of clients. One is a not-for-profit organisation and I run their secretariat. The other is a long-term client who is in Singapore and I receive magazines on his behalf, scanning the advertising pages and emailing them to him, as his field is in advertising and that is part of his business.
I did have to think about this request before responding to the client. And I did this overnight. I knew I didn’t feel quite right about the request but couldn’t put my finger on it till this morning when I remembered some stories about VAs in the past who had gotten into trouble, through innocently helping clients, by passing on packages. Sometimes it’s better to be careful, even if missing the opportunity to service a genuine client.