My Greatest Fear #64: Opening a Neighbor’s Mail by Mistake

There are many, many local, state, and national laws that I’m completely unaware of. But there’s one law that seems to be engrained in me and most others from a young age: It’s a felony if you tamper with someone else’s mail.

The concept of a felony is scary in general, but there’s something particular about mail tampering that strikes fear in my heart. It’s as if there’s a postal worker lurking around every corner, ready to pounce if I accidentally open a neighbor’s junk mail that was in my mailbox.

I know I’m not alone here. The other day I got a call from an elderly neighbor whose voice was shaking. “Jamey, I don’t know how to tell you this…but my husband accidentally opened one of your packages.” I assured her it was fine, and I went over to pick up the package. I’ve made the same mistake with something of theirs that I thought was for us.

Do you share this fear? Do you worry that the second you tear open the corner of the wrong envelope, postal inspectors will swarm through your windows and drag you to prison?

My other greatest fears are listed here.

5 thoughts on “My Greatest Fear #64: Opening a Neighbor’s Mail by Mistake”

  1. I’ve never worried about it, but then I live next door to my in-laws. They’ve taken plenty of my post in, but I don’t think even they need to open them any more. “There’s a parcel here for you Adam, probably another board game by the looks of it!”

  2. I’ve also similarly been careful to not, and also been annoyed when others, use mail boxes for advertisements that didn’t get sent through the postal service. Canvassing politicians often do this and it drives me nuts. I once worked had a job that occasionally had us do door to door marketing and we were instructed to place fliers in mailboxes, but I disputed that instruction because I was (justifiably) afraid it was a form of felony theft of service.

  3. I’ve shared that fear too! What do you do when you receive a piece of mail (potentially junk mail) addressed to someone who used to live at your address (someone you don’t know)? Do you mail it back (“return to sender – moved”)? Throw it away? I’ve worried that the second that real estate marketing postcard addressed to the previous tenant touches my trash can, that same postal investigation SWAT team (all of whom are built like The Rock and dressed exactly like the picture you used in this post) will come hurtling through my front door and pin me to the ground, arms zip-tied and knee-in-back style, and start reading me my rights. Maybe I get hauled to jail. Maybe I disappear. No one knows, and it’s the fear, more than anything else, that keeps us in line.

    This is all theoretical, of course, for the mail inspection team inevitably reading this. I HAVE NOT disposed of junk mail marked for another person!

    • I’m worried about the same thing! I think maybe you’re legally obligated to deliver the mail to their new address that day. Or else.

  4. No, this is sadly a generally an unfounded fear, and maybe I’m looking at this issue through the lens of law enforcement. There has to be intent and accidentally opening anyone’s mail does not in any way meet the legal requirement or definition of intent. I get the concern…it’s just not worth worrying about.


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