What To Do With Mail That Is Not Yours

Written by
Amber Hobert
Published on
July 9, 2024
Table of Contents

Receiving Someone Else's Mail

We always look forward to receiving the latest hottest news. At times, all we expect is a letter or parcel from a friend or relative. You are probably always very expectant when you walk past your door to the mailbox to see if you have new mail. Occasionally, you might discover one or two items of mail that don't belong to you or anyone in your household.

If it is addressed to a neighbor, then it will be as easy as delivering it to their mailbox. However, what happens if the letter doesn’t belong to your neighbor? Probably you’ll toss it into your junk mail can. Most people receive personal and confidential documents in the mail, which makes it easier to steal their identity.

For this reason, the federal government has prohibited tampering with mails. So, what should you do when you receive mail that is not yours? Keep reading this article to find out what you should do and not do. But first, what are the common reasons you’re receiving other people’s mail?

Why Are You Getting Mail That Isn’t Yours?

Some of the reasons your mailbox is full of mail are:

Misdelivered Mail

Humans are prone to error, and a mail carrier can be a culprit. Due to lack of concentration, your neighbor’s mail might end up in your mailbox. Also, a little confusion on the street/house numbers and mails will be misplaced.

Previous Resident Mail

It is highly likely that the previous tenants still have some of their mails being sent to their old address. They have probably failed to provide mail forwarding addresses to the post office.

Due to Fraud

People like taking advantage of others to commit fraud. Receiving regular mail addressed to the same person is an indicator of possible fraud. You need to report this matter to the post office.

How To Handle Mail That Isn’t Yours

Receiving other people's mail can lead to severe repercussions if not handled properly.  Whether it's a once-off mail or a frequently occurring incident, you need to handle it with care. Here is what you should do if you have received a mail addressed to someone else:  

Put a Label on It and Return It to Your Mailbox

If depositing the piece of mail in your neighbor's mailbox isn't an option, marking it as return mail is the best option. One way is to cross the bar code on the envelope. The mail will be marked as undeliverable, whether processed by a scanner or a USPS (United States Postal Service) person.

Return to Sender

Mail is wrongly delivered to you if the address on the envelope matches your address and yet it isn't yours. The first thing is to check the sender's address in the upper left-hand corner of the envelope.

A quick way to inform the mail carrier that the letter doesn't belong to you is to write "return to sender" on the back or front of the envelope. However, you should be careful not to tamper with the letter. Writing with ink is one way of tampering with the letter. To avoid tampering with the letter, use a sticky note. The mail carrier will notice it and mail it back to the sender.

Not at this Address

If you want to provide more information to the sender, you can write “Not at this Address" rather than return it to the sender. The sender will quickly realize the recipient doesn't reside in that address and then do the necessary.

Also, writing ‘not at this address” helps the post office too.  The post office will know that they shouldn’t deliver letters and parcels to that specific person. This way, you won’t have to worry about the wrong mail being delivered to your house.

If Applicable, Talk to Your Landlord

Have you moved to a new neighborhood? If you are renting, you might be receiving mail addressed to the previous tenant. A practical way of stopping mail of such nature from being delivered to you is by talking to your landlord. The landlord may have gotten a forwarding address.

The landlord may also forward the letter to the previous tenant if they have the correct address.  Furthermore, it can help the landlord to remind other tenants to update their addresses when they move out.

Deliver the Mail Yourself

Another way of dealing with any mail that is not yours is by delivering it yourself. The mail might be for your neighbor and could have been dropped at your mailbox by mistake. In this case, you can drop it in their mailbox.

If the person no longer lives in the neighborhood, you can drive to their location to deliver it or mail it yourself. You don’t have to contact them. One way of ensuring they take the right action after getting their mail is to write a note to them. Use the note to explain that the mail was wrongly addressed.

Notify Your Local Post Office

Getting the wrong mail addressed to someone else isn’t annoying – especially if it is a one-time incident. However, frequently receiving peoples’ mail in your mailbox isn’t fun. It’s worse if the mail is constantly addressed to the same person. It could be someone using your address illegally. This necessitates informing your local post office.

Have you tried all the above-mentioned solutions, and none worked?  If you’re still getting mail that doesn’t belong to you, contacting your local post office should work. Write a friendly note to your postmaster informing them of your situation. You can also file a complaint over the phone or via email.

You can speak with the manager about receiving someone else’s mail at the local post office. You can request a change of address form for the person whose mail you’re getting. You need to indicate that the person moved and left no forwarding address on the forwarding address line. Sign the form with your name and indicate you’re the current resident for the change to be effected.

What Not To Do When Receiving Other People's Mail

Don’t Open the Mail

When you find mail inside your mailbox, the first instinct is to open it without having a look at the intended recipient. The focus is on the sender and what the letter contains. However, opening someone else’s mail is a criminal offense in the United States. When you open the letter, you have tampered with it. According to US Postal code 1708, you can be jailed for up to five years or pay hefty fines.

Don’t Tamper with the Envelope

No matter the curiosity of knowing what is in the mail, never tamper with the envelope of mail that isn't yours. You should handle the envelope or package with care since you can be jailed or fined if found guilty of tampering with it. Avoid writing on the envelope.

Returning the mail in good condition is essential. Suppose you want to write a message like “Not at this Address“ or “Return to Sender," then use a sticky note. This way, you won't be guilty of tampering with other people's mail.

Don’t Try to Fill Out a Change of Address Form for the Recipient

You may get angry with receiving someone else's mail. Especially if you have already tried in vain to have the people stop sending mail wrongly addressed to you. Due to anger, you might decide to fill out a change of address form for the recipient. However, this is against the law.

It’s illegal to send someone else’s mail to another address on purpose. You can only change the recipient's address if the person has granted you their consent. This is because you're likely to provide the wrong information. All you can do is use the above methods or remind the recipients to update their addresses.

Don’t Cross or Block Out the Recipient's Name

Crossing or blocking out the recipient’s name with a pen or marker amounts to tampering. According to the US Code 1708, it’s a crime. Crossing the name means that the station manager and postal staff will have difficulty determining to whom the mail was addressed.

Furthermore, the post office might have a hard time updating their mailing lists. If it’s returned to the sender, they will have a hard time knowing who to contact. To avoid penalties and receiving other people’s mail, never cross out the recipient’s name.

Don’t Throw the Mail Away

Just because the mail isn't relevant to you doesn't mean it's irrelevant to the actual addressee. If you are tempted to throw it out with your other junk mail, then don't do it as it amounts to mail theft. Throwing it minimizes the chances of the intended recipient ever knowing what was written in the letter.

The law is strict on tampering with people’s mails intentionally. Throwing away mail wrongly sent to your address amounts to tampering with it since you are aware that it isn’t yours. You can face a five-year jail term or a $10,000 fine if found guilty.

How To Avoid Losing Your Mails When You Relocate

To avoid being part of the problem, changing your mailing address is essential. By doing so, you won't miss any critical information. For a start, changing your mail address at the post office is a fantastic way to forward mail to your new location.

The United States Postal Service recommends you change your address two weeks before moving. However, it’s possible to change your address as early as three months or as late as 30 days after relocation.

After changing your address, mail forwarding will be active for 12 months. To continue receiving your mail, change your mailing address completely. Note that you can change your address even if you are not moving.

Consider Contacting Your Post office

The best option is always to work directly with your post office. Let them know your concerns and allow them to solve the issue once and for all. Such a move will save you from making careless decisions that might either see you paying hefty fines or spending time in jail. It might not be the most convenient for everyone, but it is perhaps the safest of all your options.

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