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How to Return Mail to Sender

how to return mail to sender

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On average, the USPS processes 318 million pieces of mail per day. While they typically sort with precision, the USPS is still bound to make mistakes due to the sheer volume of mail they get.

Chances are, you’ve received unwanted mail at some point. You might’ve thrown it away, thinking it’s not relevant. However, that may not be the right course of action.

In some cases, you’ll want to return mail to sender. This ensures that things get where they belong.

Read on to see how to return mail to sender correctly.

What Does “Return to Sender” Mean?

“Return to sender” is a label that lets your post office know that you don’t want those pieces of mail. More specifically, it indicates that the mail needs to be sent back. This label also clearly shows that whatever you received has been wrongly delivered for whatever reason.

Just writing “return to sender” should be enough. However, if you want the post office to understand some key details, you can always add a Post-It with a note.

Why Do You Need to Return Mail to Sender?

There may be various reasons you need to return mail to sender. They include:

  • Delivery to the wrong address
  • Previous occupants’ mail
  • Deceased’s mail
  • Junk mail
  • Duplicate mail

It’s vital that if mail isn’t addressed to you that you take proper action. Otherwise, you’re violating federal law, as you’re mishandling mail that’s not yours. Needless to say, you shouldn’t just hang onto it, nor should you open or throw it away (more on what to do in the next section).

How to Return Mail to Sender

There are different ways to return mail to sender, depending on your circumstances. Here are the most common ones and what you should do.

Mail Delivered to the Wrong Address

Has the mail carrier delivered mail that doesn’t have your address on it? If the correct address isn’t far, you can always walk it over yourself.

However, if it’s a completely different area, you’ll want the mail carrier to pick it up and deliver it to the correct address. Here, instead of “return to sender,” you should write “wrong address” or “not at this address,” then place the piece of mail in your mailbox. You can also hand it directly to the mail carrier or drop it in a collection box.

Mail Intended for Previous Occupants

When you move, you should change your contact address and also use mail forwarding services to ensure nothing gets left behind. But of course, stragglers are a very real possibility.

Should you receive mail for the previous occupants, you’ll label it “moved” or “no longer at this address” before putting it back into your mailbox. Do you know these people and where they’re at now? Then you can leave a note for their forwarding address.

Do note that you shouldn’t attempt an address change on their behalf. This is illegal, as you’re not the people themselves.

If you yourself are moving soon, then get a virtual mailbox with Business Anywhere. You can forward mail to any address, which makes it handy if you’re planning on traveling often.

Mail Intended for Someone Who’s Deceased

The sender probably isn’t aware that the recipient has passed away, so it’s important that they have up-to-date records. 

To assist with that, you should write “deceased, return to sender” on the mail. Then you can either put it in your mailbox or hand it to the mail carrier.

Unwanted Mail

If junk mail is addressed to you, then feel free to throw it away if it’s of no use to you. You might want to take further action though, especially if you want the junk mail to stop coming. In this case, simply write “Return to sender” on the front, and put it in your mailbox.

You might receive mail that’s technically “unwanted,” but legally, you’re not allowed to return to sender. For example, if you get official government notices, legal summons, subpoenas, or any other type of legal notifications, then you must address them.

Should you get duplicates of mail, you should mark it “return to sender” with a note saying it’s an extra of what you’ve already received. Then, place it in your mailbox for the mail carrier.

What if the Mail Is Sent Back to You?

If you’ve followed all the right steps from above, then that should be the last time you see those pieces of mail. However, there are some situations when you’ll find the mail right back with you.

Before doing anything else, first check that you’ve marked it correctly. It’s very common to forget to put the right labels on, and if you’ve put it on the back of the envelope or package, the mail carrier might’ve missed it.

Next, double-check the return address. Correct any mistakes by including a note with the correct information and returning to sender again.

Was everything okay and nothing went wrong on your end, as far as you can tell? Then you should contact the post office. The employees should be able to tell you what went wrong.

Another option is to get in touch with the sender. This may bring a quicker resolution than contacting the post office.

Make Sure Mail Ends Up in the Right Place

In your lifetime, there’s a very high chance you’ll receive mail that’s either unwanted or unintended for you. Knowing how to return mail to sender can save you a lot of trouble, including legal ones.

Now that you’ve learned about “return to sender” and what to do in various circumstances, you’ll have full confidence in the steps you have to take.

Sign up with Business Anywhere if you want to access your physical mail from anywhere in the world. Our digital mailbox service makes life super convenient.

About Author

Picture of Rick Mak

Rick Mak

Rick Mak is a 30-year veteran businessman, having started, bought, and/or sold more than a dozen companies. He has bachelor's degrees in International Business, Finance, and Economics, with masters in both Entrepreneurship and International Law. He has spoken at hundreds of conferences around the world during his career on entrepreneurship, international tax law, asset protection, and company structure. Business Anywhere Editorial Guidelines

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