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Is It Illegal to Open Someone Else’s Mail?

Is It Illegal to Open Someone Else's Mail

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The USPS processes over 4,800 pieces of mail each second, which seems like a superhuman feat. In most cases, we receive everything that’s meant for us, and we go about our daily lives without issue.

But sometimes, we get something that’s not addressed to us. Whether it’s for a previous resident or someone completely unknown, it piques our interest. 

Surely a small peak wouldn’t hurt? However, it’s possible that you’re committing a crime by opening mail that’s not yours.

So is it illegal to open someone else’s mail? Keep reading to find out.

Is It Illegal to Open Someone Else’s Mail?

To get the question out of the way, it’s definitely illegal to open someone else’s mail without their permission. 

While in most cases, you’ve received something harmless like a magazine, there’s potential for a letter to contain sensitive information. Imagine how you’d feel if someone opened your letter from the doctor with a serious diagnosis; you wouldn’t be happy that they read about your private details.

Do note that it’s a different story if you have permission from the recipient. For example, if you’re house-sitting and the owner wants you to open mail for them while they’re gone, this is acceptable.

Another exception is if you’re managing the mail of someone who’s deceased. In this case, you’d either give it to the estate or forward it to someone relevant. You may also have to contact your local post office to notify them if you’re the executor of the deceased’s estate.

Is Opening Someone Else’s Mail a Felony?

According to 18 USC Section 1702, it’s a felony to open someone else’s mail. This is because it’s technically considered mail theft, tampering, and/or obstruction of correspondence.

What is the punishment for opening someone else’s mail? You can be fined and/or imprisoned for a maximum of five years.

Before you start panicking though, you should know that if you accidentally opened mail addressed to someone else, you’re off the hook. However, it’s your responsibility to handle things correctly after you realize the letter or package isn’t yours.

Who Is Responsible if a Package Is Delivered to the Wrong Address?

There are several parties who are responsible if a package is delivered to the wrong address.

First of all, the sender is mainly responsible, as they need to provide the right address when arranging the shipment. If they’ve done this correctly, then the responsibility is off their shoulders.

Next, the responsibility falls on the shipping company. They must deliver to the address that’s written on the shipping label. If they don’t, and you get mail that’s not intended for you, then you’re responsible for taking action.

In some cases, the shipping company may be liable for any losses or damages that result from the misdelivery. However, it’ll vary by individual business policies and local laws and regulations, so it’s worth researching if you’re the sender and your package hasn’t arrived at its intended destination.

What to Do With Mail That Is Not Yours

Whether you’ve accidentally opened it or not, one of the biggest things you shouldn’t do is to toss it into the trash. This is definitely obstruction of correspondence, so always hang onto mail, even if it’s not yours.

If you’ve opened the letter or package, put it back in the envelope or packaging. Then, label it “return to sender” and either put it in your mailbox or hand it to the mail carrier when they come.

Who Do I Contact if My Mail Is Not Being Delivered?

Are you on the other side and think someone else is getting your mail? Then there are several steps you can take, almost all of which involve the USPS.

Start off by checking with your neighbors. They might’ve received mail for you, but haven’t gotten around to handing it off to you (or they’ve forgotten). 

If no one has your mail, then contact your local post office. Have them check the status of your mail delivery. Your letters and/or packages may be delayed or they may have issues delivering to your address, so the worker should be able to inform you if that’s the case.

Should there be no delays or issues, then you can complete a help request form. After that, you can submit a missing mail search request if you haven’t received your mail a week after submitting a help request form.

Once you’ve completed this step, keep a close eye on your email inbox. Not only will you receive a confirmation email, but you’ll also get updates. If the USPS finds your mail and it’s safe to forward, they’ll do so to your address.

You can decrease the chances of all this happening by getting a virtual mailbox with Business Anywhere. We’ll provide you with a physical address to use, and you can send all letters and packages there. 

We’ll collect the items securely, as well as scan and upload documents so you can access them anywhere in the world. In addition, we can forward packages to wherever you are.

Deal With Mail in the Correct Way

So is it illegal to open someone else’s mail? Yes, and it’s a felony if you do it on purpose or don’t deal with it correctly.

So make sure you stay out of legal trouble, plus help people get their mail. And if you’re the one who’s not receiving your mail, take the steps outlined in this article to see productive results.

Sign up with Business Anywhere if you’d like to get a virtual mailbox. We can also help entrepreneurs with business registration and registered agent services.

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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