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What Happens If You Open Someone Else’s Mail?

Is it a crime to open someone else’s mail? The short answer is yes. However, there are several factors that need to be considered to determine if you were at fault. You can be considered guilty of “obstruction of correspondence,” which is a serious felony. If you are charged with a federal mail crime, you must contact a federal crimes attorney as soon as possible. 

Is it illegal to open someone else’s mail?

Opening, damaging, or hiding another individual’s mail is a legal offense in the United States. If someone intentionally interferes with the delivery of another person’s mail, that person is committing mail theft. Keep in mind that opening a mail with no known address can also be considered mail theft. If you are found guilty of opening someone’s mail, you can face serious penalties. 

Some people open someone else’s emails or mail that was not addressed to them without realizing that they can be sued. In addition, the fine for committing mail theft can lead to jail time. If you get delivered mail that is not addressed to you, you should follow the best practices for the re-handling of mail that will help you avoid committing any type of legal offense.  

Common Scenarios of Misdelivered Mail 

  1. You accidentally opened a letter addressed to someone else that was delivered to your address. 

It is not a punishable offense to open mail that was delivered to you by accident. It might be that you received mail that is addressed to someone else and unintentionally opened it without reviewing the postal address. 

The best thing to do is to return it by writing a “return to sender” note on it. The postal service should recognize that it is not your mail and will redeliver it to the correct postal address.  

  1. You open, damage, or hide mail that is not addressed to you. 

 It would be a crime if you open, damage, or hide mail that is not addressed to you.  Sometimes you may receive mail with your address but someone else’s name on it. It still implies the mail belongs to another person and opening their mail is illegal. You should attach a “wrong address” note on the mail and put it back in the mailbox.  

  1. You are house-sitting and have the owner's permission.

If you’re house-sitting for another individual and their mail arrives, you can contact the owner for permission to receive and open the mail. Opening the owner’s mail without informing them is illegal, and the recipient of the mail can sue you. If you open mail with the owner’s permission, it is not a crime to do so. 

What should I do if I receive mail addressed to another person?

The mistake of delivering mail to the wrong address is the fault of the postal service provider. If you come across an envelope or any type of mail addressed to someone else, do not dispose of it, as that would mean that you impede the delivery of mail, which is a punishable offense. You should also be careful not to damage it or open it. 

If it is for a nearby neighbor or someone you know, it is best to deliver the mail yourself. If you do not recognize the address, inform the postal service provider, and they will retrieve the mail from you and deliver it to the right address or return it to sender. 

As mentioned above, you can write a small note and stick it on the mail envelope to inform the carrier regarding their mistake. However, remember not to write anything directly on the envelope or packaging.  

Common Causes of Misdelivered Mail

  • You might have received mail that belongs to the previous owner or tenant of your property. It is common for people to not update their address with all the parties that could send them mail. 
  • Sometimes you can get your neighbor’s mail at your address because the carrier misread the house number or address information. 
  • The sender could have mistakenly sent you the wrong item in the mail. 
  • The label on the mail is unreadable, which caused the mail to be delivered to the wrong address. 
  • The postal service provider can mistake delivering mail to the wrong address. 

When should I contact a federal crimes attorney?

If you accidentally open someone else’s mail and the owner of the mail is going to press charges, it is best to hire a federal crimes attorney to help you fight the charges. The federal crimes attorney can guide you on what charges were pressed against you, and whether you were at fault or not. 

If you suspect that a federal investigation is in action against you, contact a federal crimes attorney. An experienced attorney will represent your case in court and handle all relevant communications and paperwork of the lawsuit. If your case is weak, the lawyer can help you secure a plea bargain.