What to do With Mail that is not Yours 

It is not news to receive mail you were not expecting or from someone you do not know.

It could be mail intended for a neighbor, a previous tenant, or the wrong address. This can be frustrating if it happens often, and you might be wondering what action to take, especially when you can not contact the mail owner.

Knowing what to do with it is not that simple because any inappropriate action is an offense or even a crime. Therefore, it’s important you know what to do with mail that is not yours.

What Not to Do with Mail That is Not Yours

Tampering with others’ mail is not just unethical but also illegal. Others receive several personal and confidential documents through the mail, which risks their identity. So, first, there are things you should not do with mail you know is not intended for you. Do not:

  1. Throw it in the trash: This can land you a felony and misdemeanor charge if found
  2. Keep it to yourself: As this is tantamount to stealing
  3. Do nothing and just let it lie there: Aside from being an offense, it is also unethical to do this
  4. Check what is in it before looking to return it: That action presents intruding into one’s privacy and intention to take what is not yours
  5. Destroy it: You can be jailed for an act such as this
  6. Pass it to someone else to use: If it is found that you did such with doesn’t belong to you, you will face serious charges.

Why Do I Receive Mail That Is Not Mine

The USPS has put a lot of effort over the years into reducing undeliverable mail. Despite this, it still costs the postal service a staggering $1.5 billion yearly.

One major cause of mail being delivered to the wrong person is the issue of ex-house owners or tenants who have not updated their information.

Secondly, it is human to err. Senders put down the wrong delivery address, and it is dropped at another’s doorstep. Subconscious writing of ‘1’ instead of ’11’ or a misspelling of ‘Wayne Street’ instead of ‘Wanye Street’ can become a big problem.

Another reason is that the receiver is deceased, and you are an occupant of the house the person used to live in. Until the person’s state is known and confirmed, you could likely keep getting mail for them.

What to Do With Mail That Is Not Yours

Handling someone else’s mail would have you treat it as you would have someone treat yours. Keep it in good shape while endeavoring to return mail to the rightful owner.

Let Your Postal Carrier Know It’s Not Yours

You can tell the mail carrier in person or leave a note saying ‘Mr. A doesn’t live here’ or ‘Return to Sender,’ ‘Mr. A has moved,’ on the envelope.

The carrier will return the mail to the post office of origin, and they will forward it if a forwarding address was provided. But if not, they will mail it back to the original sender.

Mark Through the Bar Code

The post office uses the barcode on an envelope to sort the mail with their automated system. This bar code corresponds to the delivery address, so you could write a note on the envelope, and the barcode will still direct the mail to your address.

To prevent this from happening, cross out the barcode and write ‘Wrong address’ beside it. Marking through a barcode will trigger the post office system to note the mail as ‘undeliverable.’

With that, the post office will return mail to the sender, who should update their records and resend mail to the current address. The post office updates its records using this.

Head to Your Post Office

In another scenario, go to your post office to speak to the manager. In the process, you can fill out a Change of Address card for the former resident.

You may not know where the former lives now, so in place of a forwarding address, put down: ‘Moved, left no forwarding address.’ Ensure to note that “form filled in by current resident,’ and your name.

Contact the Mail Owner

A nice way of doing it is to contact the mail owner, who could be a neighbor or someone you still communicate with cordially.

You can point the mailer to the neighbor’s house, and if the delivery is constantly being delivered to your house, let the neighbor know to update their address details.

On the other hand, if it is your landlord, or former house owner, whom you reach, do so. Let them also do accordingly by changing their mail contact details.

File a complaint to the customer’s affairs office

When you have done your bit to return mail, and it seems not to be working (which is most unlikely), you can call the customer affairs office of USPS to let them know the issues. Otherwise, you can file a written complaint and direct it to the mailing office.


Accidentally and absentmindedly, you may open someone else’s mail before realizing it doesn’t belong to you. In case of such an occurrence, contact the mail office within 48 hours to come to pick it up and return it to sender. You have not committed a crime once established that there was no intent to steal or intrude on privacy.

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