What Is The Federal Law For Opening Mail Not Addressed To You?


Did you know that there is a federal law that states that it is illegal to open mail that is not addressed to you?

What Happens If You Accidentally Open Someone Else’s Mail?

The USPS mail delivery driver who delivers your mail has the job of sorting each letter and parcel so that it ends up in the mailbox of the person that it’s addressed to. Unfortunately, a mistake may occur and you might end up with a letter that is addressed to your neighbor. If it’s combined with a few other letters that are addressed to you, you may accidentally open it, thinking that it was yours.

The federal statute 18 USC Section 1702 states that it is illegal for individuals to open correspondence that is addressed to other individuals. However, if you accidentally open someone else’s mail, you have not committed a crime. 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.

What Should You Do?

Even though you accidentally opened another person’s mail, your actions after doing so will dictate if you have committed a crime. 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 relating to that correspondence. In fact, you can be charged for taking that action.

If you unintentionally open an envelope that is not addressed to you, it is best to write “return to sender” or “delivered to wrong address” by the person’s name who the envelope should be delivered to. By taking this action, the USPS will recognize the mistake and redeliver the letter to the correct person’s address.

Intentional Act Of Opening Mail Addressed To Someone Else

Federal statute 18 USC Section 1702 was mainly initiated in order to punish individuals who knowingly steal mail with the intent to perform identity theft or other crimes. When a delivery is made to your mailbox, the USPS is relying on you to do the right thing and reroute the mail to its intended recipient.

Penalties For Opening Someone Else’s Mail

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 prison sentence that lasts as much as three years. 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. In addition, there may be sizable fines to pay. Obviously, it’s not advisable to steal mail.