Mail Tampering (What It Is And How It Works: All You Need To Know)

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What is considered mail tampering?

What are the essential elements you should know!

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Let’s see what tampering with mail means, how it works, and its punishments!

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What Is Mail Tampering

Mail tampering is a term us to refer to anyone stealing, opening, destroying, damaging, or withholding mail from someone else.

What’s important to note is that in the United States, your mail is considered to be your private property.

To the same extent that someone cannot steal, damage, or destroy your private property, we all have the same with our mail.

When someone commits a mail tampering federal offense or an offense under state laws, it is in fact violating your private property and your privacy.

A person committing such a crime will be punished by law and convicted for tampering with the mail.

Mail Definition

What is considered mail?

Anything that a person receives in the mail can be considered as “mail”, such as:

  • Letter
  • Postcard
  • Package
  • Box
  • Bag
  • Parcel 

The mail can be placed at any of the following locations:

  • Private mailbox 
  • Collection box
  • Be with the postal worker
  • Be in the mail truck
  • Post office box 
  • Letterbox 

In essence, any letter, document, goods, or valuables sent to you by mail can be classified as “mail”.

Tampering Definition

What does tampering mean?

Although every jurisdiction may define the term “tampering” differently or qualifying crime in a slightly different manner, generally speaking, you can expect tampering to mean:

  • Destroying mail
  • Stealing mail
  • Damaging mail
  • Preventing mail to be delivered 
  • Hiding mail 
  • Interfering with the receipt of mail 

When a person opens another’s mailbox, tampers with letters, opens another person’s mail, or something along those lines, the act can be punished under federal mail tampering laws or state mail tampering laws.

Crime: Intentional Behavior

To be found guilty of tampering with mail law, the prosecutor must be able to prove the elements of the crime.

Just like many other crimes, there must be an element of “intention”.

For instance, under 18 U.S. Code 1708, if you steal or tamper with someone’s mail or you obtain someone’s mail through fraud or deception, you are committing a crime.

Mail theft happens more often than it should.

Unfortunately, there are many out there that will steal packages delivered to someone, steal mail sent to someone, or illegally take valuables sent to someone through mail such as gifts, gift cards, goods, or other valuables.

Those who intercept another’s mail to commit identify theft crimes or find information about a person’s bank account, credit card, or financial affairs in order to commit other fraudulent and unlawful acts are also committing an intentional crime.

How To Prevent It

Tampering with mail is a crime.

Depending on the nature of the crime, it can be charged at the state level or it can a federal offense.

The best way to prevent being the victim of mail tampering is to contact the police if you see someone other than the mail carrier or postal worker manipulating someone’s mail.

There are many reasons why someone may want to steal another’s mail, such as:

  • To stalk them
  • To harass them
  • To cause financial harm 
  • To defraud them
  • To perform identity theft 

Or other.

If you see someone taking another’s mail, box delivery, or any other goods delivered to them, be sure to contact the local law enforcement authorities.

There are also websites where you can report mail tampering by completing a mail tampering report form.

Mail Tampering And Related Offense

Is mail tampering a federal offense?

Mail Tampering Federal Laws

In the United States, mail tampering is considered a crime.

Anyone convicted of mail tampering can end up in jail, get a severe fine, or be handed down probation as a sentence.

When you destroy someone’s mail, steal the mail, tamper with a person’s mailbox or letter, or prevent a person from getting his or her mail, you are committing an act of tampering with mail.

This is a crime that can be punished under state laws or federal laws. 

The United States Postal Service is a federal agency and, as a result, your mailbox is considered federal property.

If you violate the mailbox tampering federal law, you can be exposed to a punishment of up to 5 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

Mail Tampering State Laws

Not only you can be charged with a federal crime for tampering with mail, you can also be charged under state laws.

As an example, in California, you have a crime called “mail theft”.

Mail theft in California is considered a misdemeanor and you can get a sentence of up to one year in jail along with a $1,000 fine.

Every state will have its own set of laws and statutes potentially governing mail-related crimes.

In New York, for example, you can be charged with criminal tampering which is a property damage type of crime.

Mail Fraud 

You also have mail fraud as a crime.

You can have “mail tampering” and “mail fraud”.

Mail fraud is when an offender uses the mail medium to illegally extract money from someone.

To fraud someone through mail operations, you are committing a federal offense.

In other words, mail fraud is governed by federal laws and is considered a federal crime.

For example, if someone sends mail to another inviting them to invest in a major real estate project or to invest in stocks by transferring some money and getting a high return can be charged with mail crime.

The reason that’s the case is that the commission of the crime involved using the U.S. Postal Services to carry out the fraudulent scheme.

When a person is charged with fraud committed by mail, the offense is elevated to a federal crime and punished at the federal level.

In a nutshell, you have different states that may have “tampering with mail laws” and in general, “mail” fraud is a federal offense.

Mail Tampering Penalties

Tampering with mail can get you in legal trouble.

Under state statutes, mail tampering is generally considered a misdemeanor.

The penalty for tampering letter under state laws can be as much as imprisonment of up to two years.

If you pick up someone’s mail by accident or open it by accident, it may not be a crime.

However, if you deliberately intercept someone’s mail, damage it, wrip it up, steal it, or prevent the person from getting mail, you are potentially committing a crime.

Under 18 USC 1708 titled “Theft or receipt of stolen mail”, it is a crime whoever who:

Steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post office, or station thereof, letter box, mail receptacle, or any mail route or other authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein
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If you are found guilty of mail theft, you may be punished as follows:

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
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As you can see, the penalty under 18 USC 1708 can be quite harsh!

You can also have fines for mail theft that can go as high as $250,000!

The United States Postal Servies has published a really nice poster about the consequences of tampering with US mail on its website:

Source: https://about.usps.com/securing-the-mail/mailtampering.htm

On there, they state “tampering with mail will get you a new home, new friends, & a new job” to suggest that you can end up in “jail” as your new home, make friends with inmates, and have to do prison duties as your new job!

Very clever message and quite impactful!

Tampering With Mailbox Takeaways 

So there you have it folks!

What does mail tampering mean?

Is tampering with mail a federal offense?

What’s the penalty for tampering with mail?

If you happen to take or pick up someone’s mail by accident, you should not stress over it too much as that will most certainly not be considered a crime.

In most cases, a person realizing to have taken someone else’s mail, he or she will either return it or put a note on the mail indicating that it was delivered to the wrong address.

On the other hand, when a person “intentionally” takes another person’s mail or tampers with mail in some ways, that behavior can result in legal consequences.

Mail tampering is criminal conduct defined as stealing, destroying, damaging, or withholding someone’s mail (being personal and private property) with the intention to harm, inconvenience, or commit other unlawful acts.

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Tampering With Mail

  • Mail tampering is a criminal offense where a person, intentionally and unlawfully, steals, takes, or attempts to obtain another person’s mail
  • “Mail” can be anything such as a letter, postcard, box, bag, or anything delivered in the mail
  • “Tampering” is the act of destroying, damaging, intercepting, or preventing mail to be served to someone
  • Mail tampering can be prosecuted under federal laws or state laws and the penalty for tampering letter in the mail can be quite severe
  • Those committing mail-related crimes typically intend to stalk someone, inconvenience them, steal their valuable goods in the mail, or collect identity information to steal their identity 
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