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I signed up for a membership service with an HVAC company some time ago, and I've now decided its time to cancel my membership due to lack of use.

There isn't a nearby customer center where I live, so I attempted to cancel the membership a few times by phone. I soon caught on that the company doesn't intend to cancel my membership before I am automatically billed for another year of service; every phone call typically devolves into a high-pressure sales pitch for me to stay, or they hang up on me after I get put on hold.

Furthermore, I signed up accidentally for the membership -- having not read the fine print of the installation contract for my new HVAC -- so I am now worried that a verbal confirmation of cancellation over the phone will not be honored.

In the contract I signed, the following text appears:

I hereby authorize FooBar herein after called Company, to initiate debit entries to my account. This authorization is to remain in full force until Company received written notification from me of its termination in such time and in such manner as to afford Company a reason able opportunity to act on it (30 days).

I want to be safe and send a written notification from me requesting termination of my membership. However, I am afraid of the company claiming to have never received my written notification. I could send the written notification through certified mail, but that would only prove that the company received a letter from me and prove nothing of the contents within.

How do I prove the contents of the letter I sent is actually the contents of the letter a party received?

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    In some jurisdictions (UK) proof of posting is proof of receipt. – user207421 Sep 27 '15 at 2:12
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It's true that you can't prove what was in the envelope. But assuming this ends in small claims court or some sort of collections action lets play out how it works.

The company is going to claim that they never got notice of cancellation. They will plead ignorance so they won't have any evidence of what you didn't send. That's obvious, but more on this later.

You are going to have a trove of evidence. The emails you sent, the webforms you filled out, the voicemails you left. And finally, the letters that you sent.

Let's think about the weight of evidence! At the very least you can ask them, if they claim they didn't get a cancellation from you, what did they get in that certified envelope from you? They'll need to produce whatever was in the envelope. Unless they claim that it was empty.

At this point the judge will see exactly what is going on and you won't need to prove what was in the envelope.

Legally, the way this works is covered by Rule 901.

(a) In General. To satisfy the requirement of authenticating or identifying an item of evidence, the proponent must produce evidence sufficient to support a finding that the item is what the proponent claims it is.

(b) Examples. The following are examples only — not a complete list — of evidence that satisfies the requirement

(1) Testimony of a Witness with Knowledge. Testimony that an item is what it is claimed to be.

It's that last piece that matters here. You will take the stand and testify that the letter you brought to court is a true copy of the letter in the envelope.

  • Is it possible to notarize a copy of the letter as proof of the contents of the original letter? For example, if the other party claims to have never received the letter, or a letter of different content, the notarized copy may be produced as evidence. – Vilhelm Gray Sep 27 '15 at 3:03
  • Great answer, I had the same question long time ago back in California, and I have likewise came to the conclusion back then that this is exactly how it works. – cnst Sep 27 '15 at 4:58
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    @VilhelmGray, that's the thing -- you don't really need to notarise anything, and at least in California, I've never ever seen this being a requirement in any statute; moreover, I've never even heard of the notaries going to the post-office with anyone to notarise that the content within the envelope is identical to the content of the leftover copy; all you have to do is post it with a confirmation of receipt – cnst Sep 27 '15 at 5:03
  • I'm trying to visualize how this would play out in court. If I testify in court that the letter I brought is the true copy, does the burder of proof shift to the other party? Although the case going this far is highly unlikely, I'm curious what prevents the case from becoming he-said-she-said arguments about the letter, thus preventing a definite conclusion. – Vilhelm Gray Sep 27 '15 at 14:39
  • @VilhelmGray well, the next obvious question would then be what was in the letter - it could go several ways from the company being asked to produce it, or claiming it was empty (would the mail have it's weight by any chance?) – user2813274 Sep 27 '15 at 15:26
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A common practice for law firms is to make a photocopy of correspondence issued, and to send it by multiple channels.

For instance, you may scan and email it to a customer service email address as well.

If you still own a fax (or can find one), and you can find a fax number for the company (which is still surprisingly common), you can fax it to them as well, and get a transmission receipt which can include an image of the fax you sent, and a timestamp.

The more serious the matter, the more means you can use to send it. The more means you use, the more evidence there will be that you have sent it, and they have received it - you'll have the timestamped email, the registered post receipt, the fax transmission receipt - and the more difficult it will be for them to say that, on this particular day, all methods of communication with them just happened to fail.

Finally, should this matter come before a court, you may find it useful to declare an oath or other instrument for making a sworn statement of fact - usually a statutory declaration or an affidavit. Your ability to swear one - and rely on it - will depend on the jurisdiction and other evidence you have in your favour.

  • As a side-note, there are plenty of websites that will send a fax from an uploaded PDF file for relatively cheap for those who don't have a fax machine - might be useful in this case as you would get a receipt with the contents, confirmation of it going through, etc. – user2813274 Sep 27 '15 at 14:10
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I've had the exact same question when dealing on a legal matter with an adversary in California.

Certain statutes in California require written notices to be sent, for example, between landlords and tenants.

The way this works is you post the letter as described in the statute, often even without any sort of extra postal services like a confirmation of receipt or anything like that. As jimsug mentioned, you could indeed make sure to provide an extra copy in person, by fax or email, in addition to the USPS letter, just in case (but also making sure to explain in any such copy that it is merely a copy of the letter sent via USPS, to avoid any confusion, and to avoid the adversary later claiming that letter was not sent by USPS as possibly required by the statute or contract).

IFF this comes down to court, you simply make a declaration under oath that the correspondence was sent as required, showing proof of paid postage (I like getting receipts that show the 9-digit ZIP code of the destination), or possibly the signature of the recipient (if required -- some statutes don't actually require that the letters sent are actually received!), along with any other evidence of the copies being sent as well. You also show the exact copy of what was sent, and likewise swear under oath that it is a copy of what was sent.

It's not very likely that the adversary will decide to lie under oath to contradict your statement, and even if they do, you'll have an adequate time for cross examination of them as a witness.

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    Nowadays you can take a photo of the letter and the envelope together. And since you would have no reason to write a letter, write the address on an envelope, put a stamp on it, and then not send it, but the receiver has lots of reason to claim they didn't receive it, your statement is much more believable. – gnasher729 Dec 26 '18 at 22:01
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You could also take a video in which you clearly show the letter and the envelope with address and tracking number. Then you continue to video record yourself while you put the document into the envelope and throw the envelope into an official USPS mailbox. Everything must be in one video and make sure the envelope is always seen, so it is impossible that you could have quickly exchanged the letter or something similar. Together with the confirmation of the delivery through the tracking number and a fax with a confirmation page that shows the content of the fax, this should be a very convincing proof that they received your letter ;)

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