Here's What You Should Do if Someone Else's Mail Ends Up in Your Mailbox

Here are some etiquette tips and steps for handling someone else's mail in your mailbox.

The U.S. Post Office delivers an astonishing number of letters and packages daily, and most of them end up in the right place. Occasionally, though, they make mistakes, and someone else's mail ends up in your mailbox. It could be that the addressed correspondence is to a former resident, the thank you note slipped into the mailbox of apartment 2C instead of 2E, or perhaps the mail carrier delivered a letter intended for 360 Main Street to 360 Main Avenue. Whatever the reason, mail occasionally ends up in the wrong mailbox, and the question about what to do with it falls to the recipient.

Woman Getting Mail
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Etiquette for When Someone Else's Mail Ends Up in Your Mailbox

What Is the First Rule for Handling Someone Else's Mail?

The first rule for handling someone else's mail is to treat it as you would hope someone would treat your own—Don't open it and try to keep it in good shape while you focus on getting the mail into the right hands.

How To Return Someone's Mail if They Are Your Neighbor?

If you have the time and mobility, the easiest solution is to consider delivering the misdirected mail yourself. If the person lives nearby or just down the hall, you can either slip it in their mailbox or, if you can't open their mailbox without a key, consider knocking on their door. If they are at home, you can hand over their mail and meet one of your neighbors simultaneously.

How To Return Someone's Mail if They Aren't Your Neighbor?

If the intended mail is for someone who lives too far away to hand deliver, or you don't have the time to take on the uninvited task, place the item back in the mailbox for your mail carrier to pick up and deliver correctly.

In her column in the Houston Chronicle, Heloise notes that there's no need to mark the misdelivered item. Instead, return it to the mailbox and hope the mail carrier gets the hint or perhaps affix an explanatory note on a Post-It.

That said, KOMO News suggests that if one of those stick-on barcodes is attached, scribble it out or peel off the sticker or you risk getting the card returned to you in the next day or two.

What To Do if "Current Resident" Is the Addressed Recipient?

If you're receiving mail for someone who no longer lives at the address, write "not at this address" on a note attached to the misdirected mail. If the problem persists, contact the post office on the phone or in person and alert them to the situation. As Lifehacker points out, though, keep an eye out for mailing addresses that include the phrase "or current resident," as whoever happens to live in the house at the time is technically the recipient, and if that's you, it's yours to do with as you wish.

What To Do if Receiving Incorrect Mail Persists?

If receiving the incorrect mail in your mailbox is a persistent problem, call the USPS Consumer Affairs office, file a complaint, or report it to your local postmaster.

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