If you are getting mail for someone else, you might be wondering whether you can just recycle it, or whether you have to deal with it.
You cannot throw away someone else’s mail. Doing so is not legal, and it could result in a fine or even time in prison. Mail should be forwarded to the correct address or returned to the sender.
Today we will tell you all there is to know about this topic so you know exactly what to do with the mail that does not belong to you.
Why Am I Getting Someone Else’s Mail?
There are a number of situations that could lead to you getting someone else’s mail. These include:
- The recipient lived there in the past and has not updated their information
- The sender made an error in writing the address
- The sender has failed to update their records
- The mailman has mistakenly put something through your door
Sometimes, you will get mail intended for a neighbor, usually because the mailman has mistaken the number or didn’t notice the letter in your mail pile. You might also get mail for now-adult children who have moved away from home.
Because the US postal service delivers to addresses, rather than names, it is not uncommon for mail to end up in the wrong place.
Is It Legal To Throw Out Someone Else’s Mail?
No, it is not legal to throw out mail that has been delivered to you if it does not have your name on it. Tampering with somebody else’s mail is considered a felony in the United States.
This is true even if it has come to your address. The mail is not your property, and you are not legally allowed to dispose of it. This is considered a crime in all parts of the United States.
What Happens If You Throw Someone Else’s Mail Away?
In practice, it is rare that anything will happen. It is difficult to prove that mail has been thrown away without a confession or video evidence. Even if it could be proven, it is often done through ignorance of the law, rather than maliciousness.
However, tampering with mail that is not intended for you is a serious crime. If convicted of it, you could get fined or even sent to prison.
The crime is known as “obstruction of correspondence” and it could land you with up to five years in prison.
What Do I Do With Old Residents’ Mail?
If you receive mail that you know was intended for a previous resident, there are a few simple steps that you can follow.
- Contact the owner or agent of the building to see if they have a forwarding address for the resident
- Find out if the resident left a forwarding address with any neighbors
- Write the forwarding address on the envelope with the words “Forward to” and re-mail it. You should not need to pay additional shipping fees for this. You may wish to cross out the current address.
The building owner will often have a forwarding address because they frequently need to communicate with residents even after they have moved out (to coordinate the return of deposits, keys, etc.).
The building owner may also agree to place a note on the mailbox telling a mail carrier to only deliver mail with “[current residents’ names]” on it. They can also write “[former tenant’s name] is no longer at this address.”
The mail carrier should then sort through the mail and remove any mail intended for the old resident. This will be returned to the post office, which will return it to the sender.
They should also update their own records to stop mail from being wrongly delivered to your address.
How Do You Dispose Of Mail That Is Not Yours?
If you are receiving mail and you have no way to forward it to the correct recipient, you might be wondering how you stop it from piling up in your home if you can’t throw it away.
Follow these steps.
- First, you need to write a phrase along the lines of “not at this address” or “return to sender” or “moved” on the envelope. Write in large, clear letters so that they cannot be missed and re-sent to your address.
- Cross out your current address, but ensure it is still legible so records can be updated.
- Mail the envelope back into the USPS system. You will not be charged to do this. USPS will return the envelope to the sender so that they can update their records.
- Keep doing this consistently until the mail slows down or stops.
After a while, this should stop mail from being incorrectly sent to you.
However, if the person is deliberately using your address for some reason, you may still receive some mail. If this happens, discuss your options with your mail carrier.
What To Do If You Accidentally Opened Someone Else’s Mail
It is reasonable to open mail without reading the name on it sometimes, especially if you live alone and so you are not expecting mail for other family members.
If this occurs, you might be worried, because opening mail that is not intended for you is illegal.
However, it is accepted that this happens by mistake sometimes, and you don’t need to panic. You should put the mail back into the envelope, seal the envelope, and write “not at this address” on it. Put it back into the USPS system so it can be sorted.
You should not do anything with the information that you have read, as this then becomes illegal access to mail not intended for you. As long as you do not do anything and you return the mail to the system, you have not committed a crime.
It is always a good idea to check the recipient’s name before opening mail, even if you are not expecting mail for anyone other than yourself to be delivered to the house. This reduces the risk of accidents.
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You must not put mail that is not intended for you in the garbage. If possible, forward this mail to the recipient’s new address. If you do not know the new address, write “return to sender” or a similar phrase on the envelope and mail it back.
Martha had a chance to work for such major companies as USPS and FedEx, where she gained a lot of experience and learned quite a few nuances when it comes to handling mail and packages. Now she is a freelance writer who specializes in the logistics industry.