While the United States Postal Service ensures the fastest shipping an organization of its size and scope can manage, they must also be vigilant about security.
Items like alcohol, firearms and drugs are prohibited, and the Postal Service must work diligently to keep these things out of their system.
It begs the question: Does USPS scan packages? I have the answer you’re probably very curious to learn about.
Does USPS Scan Packages In 2023?
The United States Postal Service does scan some packages, but on the whole, it is a completely random process. In some cases, postal workers may be alerted to a suspicious package, which then gets singled out. Additionally, packages going in and out of major metropolitan areas are more likely to be scanned.
To learn more about why USPS scans or x-rays packages, what they scan for, what makes a package look suspicious and whether or not USPS can actually open packages, keep reading below for all you need to know!
Why Does USPS Scan Packages?
I would guess that for as long as the Postal Service has existed, criminal elements have tried to use it for their nefarious deeds.
However, unwitting non-criminal citizens may also mistakenly send things which could prove hazardous to others.
Thus, the USPS must scan or x-ray packages to ensure both public and individual health and safety.
Imagine if people every day were mailing loaded firearms or cases of poorly packed glass alcohol bottles.
Scanning gives the USPS an additional layer of security, over their legal prohibitions, which deter most, but not all.
Leading the way in package inspection are specially trained inspectors who work as part of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
These investigators are highly trained to look for everything from illegal narcotics, to mail fraud, to identity theft, and even money laundering and cybercrime.
Does USPS Scan Packages For Drugs?
If the drugs have been packaged in a suspicious way, then there is a good chance USPS will scan them.
After all, it’s a felony to try and mail drugs, including opioids like heroin, marijuana (even in decriminalized states), and prescriptions drugs, too.
Yes, even if you have a valid prescription for those antibiotics or painkillers, you do not have the proper licensing to mail them (as a prescription company does).
And believe you me, pills in a bottle make a very distinctive rattling noise that any postal worker would hear with suspicion.
Never discount the possibility of disaster that could await you: one postal worker on a Quora thread mentioned he had a box of marijuana break open during processing.
You can either over-tape the box (which looks suspicious) or risk the above happening.
It’s not worth it!
Will USPS Know If I Ship Alcohol?
There is no guarantee that USPS will know if you ship alcohol, but there is equally no guarantee that you will get away with it.
Particularly if you are attempting to ship glass bottles, the sound could tip off a trained postal worker.
You also run the risk of breakage or spillage, which would make your transgression immediately noticeable (and you immediately guilty of a felony).
However, let’s say that you are shipping something that is not alcohol, but you are using a box that alcohol was previously housed in.
In order for the USPS to not flag your package, you must cover all the indications of alcohol on the packaging – words like “wine” or “vodka,” and any pictures like wine glasses.
Let’s say you do want to ship alcohol, though. You can actually do so via FedEx or UPS.
Both shipping carriers do require some extra registration to ship alcohol, but they will allow it.
Can You Write Do Not X-Ray On Your Package With USPS?
You can write “Do Not X-Ray” on your package, but it will have quite the opposite effect.
In fact, it is much more likely that USPS will flag your package as suspicious and go ahead and X-Ray the box all the more quickly.
X-Raying/scanning is just part and parcel with shipping something USPS.
If you’re not shipping anything illegal, and you just want discretion, make the packaging as plain and ordinary as possible.
Truly, the only way to completely escape the possibility of USPS scanning your package is to hand-deliver it to the recipient’s front door.
What Makes A Package Suspicious To USPS?
The USPS provides a handy list of suspicious characteristics that they watch out for. A brief overview includes:
- Packages with a handwritten recipient address but no return address
- Packages which say “Confidential” or “Do Not X-Ray”
- Packages which are excessively heavy relative to their size
- Packages excessively taped up
- Packages that have been shipped from a different zip code than the one on the return address
For a full list of what the USPS considers suspicious, check out their page here.
Is USPS Allowed To Open Packages?
Under the Fourth Amendment, which reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The USPS is not legally allowed to open your First-Class mail or packages unless they have a warrant.
X-Raying does provide probable cause (e.g., they see on the scan something shaped like a weapon or like a bottle of alcohol); at that point, they would obtain a search warrant.
And it’s important to note: according to this U.S. Postal Inspection Service FAQ sheet, First-Class mail is the only class protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Other classes do not require a warrant (because they “do not contain private correspondence”) and can be opened at USPS’s discretion.
To know more about USPS services, you can also read our posts on what is a return receipt in USPS, if USPS first-class has insurance, and if USPS packages are insured.
The USPS does scan packages randomly, though it is more likely to occur in larger metropolitan areas or for packages that appear suspicious.
While First-Class mail is protected by the Fourth Amendment from being opened without a warrant, the penalties – mailing prohibited items is a felony – are not worth the risk.