Mail Delivered But Where

In the modern age of online purchases, the volume of shipped orders continues to increase.  For some carriers, it is becoming evident more mistakes are being made, as well.

The USPS mail delivery driver who delivers your mail can unfortunately make a mistake. You might end up with a package that is addressed to your neighbor or vice versa and they may be given yours. If you unintentionally open mail that is not addressed to you, it is best to reseal and write “Return to Sender” or “Delivered to Wrong Address” by the person’s name with whom the mail should be delivered. By taking this action, the USPS will recognize the mistake and redeliver the letter to the correct person’s address. If you decide to throw the piece of mail into the trash, you have committed a crime – as that action has intentionally obstructed and stopped the delivery process.

The federal statute 18 USC Section 1702 states: “It is illegal for individuals to open correspondence that is addressed to other individuals. The law was created to punish individuals who knowingly open mail that is addressed to someone else.” These type of people may be looking for personal information that they can abuse or valuable items that they can steal. When an incorrect delivery is made to your mailbox or door, the USPS is relying on you to do the right thing and reroute the mail to its intended recipient. Carriers sometimes have difficulty getting it right the first time.

The owner or tenant before you might continue to receive mail at your home if you just recently moved in. This is especially common if they didn’t forward their mail with the USPS or if they receive mail that services can’t forward. Don’t discard letters or packages that come to your home addressed to the person who lived there before. Redirecting the mail is the safest way to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.

It is also against the law to break into someone’s mailbox, even if you’re legally permitted to read the mail – do this, and you could be charged with the crime of mailbox tampering. The government does not take the theft of mail lightly when sentencing individuals who commit this crime. If a person steals parcels or letters from the USPS and is caught and charged for the crime, they may serve a sentence that lasts as much as five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. Typically, if they intentionally stole mail for the purpose of committing another crime, this sentence will run concurrent to sentences given for those other crimes.

If you are the unfortunate consumer that bought something online and your product never reached the right destination, there’s a reason “snail mail” got its name.  If your mailed item has not arrived, you will need to check USPS Tracking before taking any action.  According to their website, USPS will not immediately help you find out where your parcel ended up either.  “Not until 14 days have passed since the date of mailing and the recipient has confirmed the item has not arrived” are you allowed to even submit a Search Request for your lost mail.  The Postal Service also admits that submitting a search does not guarantee a successful outcome

Alternative carriers like DHL, FedEx, and UPS typically provide quicker and more dependable services, but may not be offered as an option from all internet sellers.  Depending on the size and weight of the parcel, using an alternative carrier may also cost you more for shipping… and they don’t always get it right either.

Let’s hope in the near future, drone delivery is more efficient at finding the right destination… the first time.


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