Whether your mail carrier made an honest mistake or the sender addressed the letter to a previous tenant or employee, your business may occasionally get mail that doesn't belong to you. In these cases, the United States Postal Service counts on you to act honestly by not tampering with the letter and instead following the right procedures for getting the item to its correct recipient. USPS will handle the forwarding if you return the letter to them. Depending on the situation, you may need to make a note on the envelope to alert them of the issue.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If you recognize the letter's address and it's not yours, you can hand the letter to the recipient personally if the person is nearby or just drop it back in your mailbox for a postal worker to pick up. Otherwise, write "not at this address" on the letter and hand it back to USPS.
Understanding Misdelivered Mail Law
When you find a letter in your business's mailbox and see that the recipient isn't you, then you might wonder, "What are laws about handling mail that is not mine?" When such incidents happen, you should avoid opening the letter since you might become guilty of a federal felony if you do so. The penalty can include up to five years in jail along with an expensive fine if you acted willingly.
For example, if you get someone else's letter and purposely open and read it out of curiosity, then you can get in trouble if you use that information to commit identity theft or another crime. However, USPS understands that mistakes can happen if you accidentally open someone's letter when you're not paying attention. In that case, it places the duty on you to honestly handle the situation and get the mail to the intended recipient.
At the same time, avoid the temptation to throw away any letter addressed to someone else. Misdelivered mail law also considers destroying someone's mail to be a type of mail theft that can lead to fines and imprisonment. The same applies if you take a letter from someone else's mailbox.
Returning Letters to USPS
If your post office delivered mail to the wrong address, following the USPS processes for returning mail is often the easiest option. This will allow USPS to locate the recipient's current address and forward the mail there, albeit with a delay.
If the mailing address shown is your business's address but you don't recognize the recipient's name, then you can put "not at this address" on the letter to notify the post office of the issue. On the other hand, if the address on the letter isn't even that of your business, then you can just return the letter to USPS without writing anything on it.
In both cases, you can leave everything on the mail as is, and you don't need to cross out the address or add any new postage. You can then either put the letter in your business mailbox, leave it in a collection box or give it to a postal worker.
Redelivering the Letter Personally
In some cases, you might have the issue where you recognize the addressee but he is no longer present at your business. For example, perhaps the letter belongs to a past employee or business partner who has moved on. If you know the person's current address, you can simply hand them the letter personally. The same would apply if a mail carrier accidentally left a neighboring business's mail in your box, and you're willing to take it over to the person.
Contacting Your Local Post Office
If you find that you receive misdelivered mail often, consider letting USPS know so that they can address the issue. To save yourself a trip, you can do this online or by phone.
You can go on the USPS website's "Contact Us" page to find the option to email about mail issues. Selecting "Where is my Mail?" will give you an option for "Daily Mail Delivery". Select "I received someone else's mail" to get a form to fill out about your issue and to hear back from USPS shortly.
You can dial 1-800-275-8777 to reach the postal service and press "4" to report a mail delivery problem. Follow the prompts to select the option for misdelivered mail. Note that live representatives can only help you on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Eastern time and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time on Saturdays.
- USPS: How Is Undeliverable and Misdelivered Mail Handled?
- Business Insider: Throwing Away Someone Else's Mail Is a Felony — Here's How to Get Rid of It Legally
- FindLaw: Is It Illegal to Open Someone Else's Mail?
- The Law Dictionary: What Is the Federal Law for Opening Mail Not Addressed to You?
- FindLaw: Mail Theft
- USPS: Contact Us
Ashley Donohoe started writing professionally about business topics in 2010. Having eight years experience running all aspects of her small business, she is knowledgeable about the daily issues and decisions that business owners face. She also has earned a Master of Business Administration degree with a leadership and strategy concentration from Western Governors University. Some other places featuring her business writing include JobHero, LoveToKnow, PocketSense, Chron and Study.com.