Have you ever received mail for your home’s previous occupant and just thrown it away? For many of us, it happens so often, and it’s usually junk, so we think nothing of it.
Technically, this is illegal, and the United States Postal Service has some best practices for these situations.
So, what do you do when USPS delivers mail to the wrong address? Here’s what you need to know.
What Do You Do When USPS Delivered To the Wrong Address?
According to USPS, they will direct incorrect recipients of misdelivered mail to simply place the mailpiece back into the mailbox or hand it to the mail carrier the next time they deliver. Opening, trashing, or otherwise destroying mail not addressed to you is, in fact, illegal.
To learn more about how to handle mail that has been delivered to your home but is not addressed to you, how to recover your mail from an old address, whether you’re allowed to open someone else’s mail, and how to stop mail coming to your home, read on!
What If USPS Delivered Mail To the Right Address, But the Person No Longer Lives There?
The United States Postal Service offers advice on its website for what to do with mail that arrives at your residence but isn’t addressed to you.
If the mailpiece isn’t addressed to you and doesn’t have the correct address: Simply place it back in your mailbox or hand it to your mail carrier next time they come.
Don’t write on it, don’t deface it, don’t put any markings on it. The mail carrier will look at it, see that the address isn’t correct, and take it with them.
(Alternatively, I’ve had a mail carrier just ignore the mailpiece that I left in the mailbox for them to take; to resolve this, I put a sticky note on it, saying “Incorrect address,” and that did the trick.)
If the address is correct, but it is simply the recipient that is wrong (say, a former resident at the house or apartment), you can write “Not at this address” on the envelope.
Make sure you don’t cover up the address or the name with your writing, and then put the mailpiece in your box, give it to the mail carrier, or put it in a street collection box.
Do not destroy it or throw it out!
How Do You Recover Mail Sent To Your Old Address?
If you’ve recently moved and discovered that some of your mail is still going to your old address, there are some things you can do to retrieve it.
Mymove.com stresses the importance of ensuring that you have filed a change of address. It only costs $1.05 (and this fee is just to help prevent identity fraud), and you can do it online.
Then, if you know something was supposed to arrive by a certain date, but it’s been at least a week, you can file a USPS Help Request Form.
This puts you in touch with your local delivering Post Office and puts them on alert to search and keep an eye out for your mailpiece.
Also, and this is not necessarily USPS-related, but I have a suggestion for if you are moving out of an apartment but staying in the same city.
If you were on good terms, you could ask the leasing manager to see if the new tenants will give them your (incorrectly-delivered) mail to hold.
Then you can periodically swing by for it and see which contacts you might have forgotten to update with your new address.
Is It Illegal To Open Someone Else’s Mail?
It is, indeed, illegal to open someone else’s mail, even when the intent is innocent.
Do these cases of fraud ever get prosecuted? Hardly ever.
But to avoid all chances of being caught doing something you weren’t supposed to be, just leave the wrongly delivered mail alone.
Can You Throw Away Mail Not Addressed To You?
Throwing away mail that wasn’t addressed to you but ended up in your mailbox is also illegal.
Mail that goes through the Postal Service is federally protected, making opening, tossing, or destroying other people’s mail a felony.
Is It Illegal To Destroy Someone Else’s Mail?
You cannot legally destroy someone else’s mail! It is illegal – a felony, in fact.
Probably most of us have done it at one time, like when it was marketing mail or a flyer addressed to someone else.
But from now on, use the best practices listed above to get that mail to the correct recipient versus destroying it.
It might not seem important to you, but you never know what it means to someone else.
How Do You Stop Someone Else’s Mail Coming To Your Address?
You can do a few things to stop someone else’s mail from coming to your address. If it’s the same name each time, they were probably a former tenant or resident.
First, every time a mailpiece arrives that is correctly addressed with an incorrect recipient, you can write on the envelope, “Not at this address.”
Place it back in the mailbox and let the mail carrier pick it up with the new knowledge that the listed recipient lives elsewhere. This should help USPS to update its records.
If that doesn’t work, and it’s the same name or series of names each time, put a sticky note on the latest mailpiece.
Write “(Name/s) do not live at this address” on it. You can also tape the note on the front of your box (if it’s inside) or on the interior of the box (if it’s outside).
This serves as an everyday reminder that the recipient(s) doesn’t live at your address any longer.
Finally, WikiHow.com offers this piece of advice: Strike through the barcode on the mailpieces that come to your residence in error and write “Not at this address” on the envelope.
What this does is essentially render the mailpieces “undeliverable.” This forces USPS to examine the reasons why the mailpieces can’t be sorted.
Hopefully, it will force the mailpieces out of being sorted with your actual mail and get USPS to find the recipient’s true address.