When your business receives some unwanted or mistaken mail, you may be able to return it to the sender versus buying new postage. Common USPS return to sender reasons include mail delivered to the wrong address or person, junk mail and unsolicited items. The return to sender post office rules require that the item be unopened and free from tampering. If you've opened the item, you may need to contact USPS for assistance or complete a regular return process with a retailer if the item received was something you had ordered.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
To return unopened mail to the sender, you need to write "return to sender" on the item and avoid marking out any information contained on the envelope or shipping label.
Returning Unopened Mail to Sender
As long as you haven't opened the envelope or package, you can simply write "return to sender" on it for the postal service to handle. If you got a package addressed to a person who doesn't work at your business or who has relocated, then you can put "not at this address" on the packaging as well. This can help the postal service to forward the mail to the recipient's new address. In any case, don't try to mark out any addresses or otherwise tamper with the mail.
You won't have to pay USPS any fee or buy any postage to have the mail returned to the sender. However, if you're refusing a package that you purposely ordered from a company, don't expect to have the shipping charges refunded. In some cases, the retailer might deduct return shipping charges from any refund due, so you might want to reach out to the seller to get confirmation before you put "return to sender" on your item and ship it.
You can then drop the item in a USPS mailbox, take it to the post office or hand it to your mail carrier when he does his daily visit.
Returning Opened Mail to Sender
According to the U.S. legal code, opening mail not belonging to you can have penalties like fines and imprisonment. However, this mainly happens when you purposely open mail with the intent to commit fraud, to steal or to perform another crime. If you accidentally opened mail sent to you and didn't realize it was for someone else, you can contact your post office to let it know, and it can provide guidance on how to proceed.
However, if you ordered something from a retailer and want to return it after opening the packaging, you'll have to repackage the item and handle the issue with the retailer. You'll likely be able to get a return shipping label and return form online from the seller to use for mailing back the item. If not, contact the seller to make a return request and purchase your own postage if necessary.
USPS Return to Sender Tracking
If your returned item has a tracking number on it, you can enter that number on the USPS website's home page, where you'll find a tracking form. Once USPS receives the item, you'll see its progress and a notice that it has been returned to the sender. USPS notes that you can expect the return shipping to take as long as expected with the mailing class used. However, there can be delays when mail gets held up due to issues like a change of address.
When you're returning a solicited item to the retailer, you can track your package's progress the same way. You should also receive an update from the retailer about a refund and a receipt of your return.
- USPS: Return to Sender Mail
- USPS: How is Undeliverable and Misdelivered Mail Handled?
- USPS: Sending Packages
- Bachner & Associates: Opening Someone Else’s Mail May Not Be Illegal
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute: 18 U.S. Code § 1708. Theft or Receipt of Stolen Mail Matter Generally
- iFixit Support: My Tracking Says the Package Is Returning to Sender
- PostScanMail: How to Forward Postal Mail to Someone
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.