Mailing money to Poland is risky!
Compiled by Our Warsaw Correspondent Robert Strybel

WARSAW--For years, Polish Americans have been sending greeting cards to relatives and friends in Poland at Christmas time. A great many of them have included “a bit of green” – $10, $20 and even $50 or $100. Before Poland dumped communism in 1989, that was an impressive financial injection. Back then, $25 was what many Poles earned in an entire month; at present, most Poles earn between 1,000 złotys (app. $335) and 1,500zł ($670) a month.

Throughout the rest of the year, greenbacks slipped into a letter usually get through, but around Christmas time, the risk factor increases. Despite all the security precautions employed by the US and Polish postal systems, pilferage was and continues to be a problem. The problem is not limited to the Untied States and Poland, for incidents can also occur along the way. Several years ago, a large quantity of mail bound for Poland had been found opened, torn and scattered on a trash heap in Frankfurt, Germany – the main postal trans-shipment point between the US and Poland.

Short of discontinuing money gifts to relatives and friends in Poland, can anything be done about this? Over the years, individual Pol-Ams have developed various ways of outfoxing mail thieves. employees. The safest are virtual money-transfer methods not involving cash or mailing including:

POLISH-AMERICAN TRAVEL AGENCIES, which have years of experience in sending money and gift parcels to Poland. For the address of the one nearest you, phone the Society of Polish-American Travel agents at (718) 383-7211 or visit Web page:

WESTERN UNION, AMERCIAN EXPRESS and other non-Polonian companies also transfer money to recipients in Poland. A good rule of thumb is to compare the service fees charged by the Pol-Am travel agencies and the non-Polonian outfits before you decided.

MONEY TRANSFERS from your bank to that of the gift recipient. The drawback here is that you must know the number of the recipient’s Polish bank account and that eliminates the element of surprise. Also people living in remote rural areas may have to travel some distance to their bank, which may be a problem for the elderly who most likely are still not on-line.

If, for whatever reason, you still prefer sending money by mail, because it is more intimate or closer to your Polish family’s expectations, then consider the following:

CASH IN GREETING CARD is asking for trouble! The non-standard size, design and color of the envelope as well as the stiffer, tell-tale “feel” of the greeting card are dead give-aways creating an irritable temptation to thieves.

CASH IN LETTER: An American banknote stands a better chance of getting through when slipped into what looks like a normal letter (not a greeting card!) and sent in a plain, regular, white envelope. A blank sheet of paper may be used to wrap the cash in, but it might be nicer if you at least penned (or typed) in: WESOŁYCH ŚWIĄT i SZCZĘŚLIWEGO NOWEGO ROKU! Nevertheless, during the pre-Christmas season, even such an indistinctive, low-key mailing is at higher risk than at other times of year.

CHECK IN LETTER: Sending a personal or bank check is a safe way to give gifts of money because they are of no use to a thief and can be cashed only by the recipient they are made out to. The drawback is that foreign (American) checks cannot be cashed immediately in Poland but are sent back to a US check- clearance center for verification, so it may take a month of two before the recipient actually sees the cash. Different banks charge from $5 to $10 to cash a check, and only banks cash checks in Poland, so that could mean a long trip to town for rural residents.

Some Pol-Ams may wonder whether a Christmas gift parcel sent through a Polish-American travel agency might not be preferable to cash. During the communist period, when most everything was in short supply, a gift box containing chocolates, canned ham, coffee, raisins, nuts, oranges and other goodies often helped brighten what would have otherwise been bleak and meager holidays. Nowadays, consumer abundance reigns supreme in Poland, the only obstacle to taking advantage of it being a shortage of cash.

However, even today, such a Christmas present delivered to the door of a poor family will come as a most pleasant surprise. One Pol-Am from Chicago told me: “I know everything is available in Poland these days, but if I send money, my cousin’s husband will drink it all away. With a gift parcel I know the kids will get some nice Christmas treats.”