Ask LH: How Can I Stop Getting Mail Addressed To Someone Else?

Ask LH: How Can I Stop Getting Mail Addressed To Someone Else?

Dear Lifehacker,

I keep getting someone else’s mail. It’s not like I just moved here. I’ve been here for three years, and I still get real mail addressed to the person who lived here before me! How can I stop this? It’s annoying for me, and can’t be good for her, either. Any suggestions? Thanks, Postal Problems

Photo by leosaumurejr

Dear Postal Problems,

Getting mail that isn’t addressed to you is an annoyance we all have to deal with when we first move into a place. Former residents often forget to change their address with every company they’ve dealt with, and most people don’t lodge redirects either. Whether you’ve been in your place for a week or a decade, your options are, however, surprisingly limited.

The key step is to take any mail which isn’t addressed to you and write ‘not known at this address’ and ‘return to sender’ on it, then pop it in any mailbox. As the Postal Industry Ombudsman explains, there’s no charge for resending mail provided you haven’t opened it and it’s a regular letter size. (If you’re receiving a ridiculous amount of mail for someone else, investing in a rubber stamp could make the process easier.)

Unfortunately, that’s just about all you can do. The Ombudsman points out that it can be illegal to open someone else’s mail or dispose of it. If you continue to receive mail addressed to someone else and you can deduce the relevant company from the outside of the envelope, you could write them a letter directly asking them to update their database, but if the company has ignored returned mail, the effectiveness of this is questionable.

In other countries, there are sometimes options to ask for mail to a specific sender to be blocked, but that isn’t possible in Australia. As the Ombudsman points out: “Australia Post will no longer accept customer’s requests that mail for previous occupants be automatically returned to sender.” You can’t have that mail diverted either, since you need ID proving that you’re the person the mail is addressed to for that to happen.

The big lesson? Make sure you change addresses when you move, and consider letting whoever moves into your new address know what your forwarding address is. The more people do that, the less common this problem is.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I pop a ‘return to sender’ on it for the first six months, then I store it out the front of my house in a big green box with wheels and a yellow lid that’s made specially for holding that sort of thing.

    • I know it’s stupid, but you shouldn’t really be doing that:

      The Ombudsman points out that it can be illegal to open someone else’s mail or dispose of it.

      • It can be, but I am storing it in said green box.

        It’s actually quite effective – seems the addressed recipient comes and picks up their mail every other week.

        The facts speak for themselves!

  • I have been getting mail addressed to the previous owner for over four years now. I keep sending the mail back but it does not always work, they still keep sending letters through.
    We suspect that the previous owner is still using the old address on her driver’s licence and had it renewed for at least 5 years before selling the property, she keeps signing up for new things because all the sudden there is new companies sending her letters.

    How can we stop this…? She is obviously using our address, I am expecting a debt collector to show up at our door any day…..

  • I had a debt collector turn up on our door step chasing the previous owner of our place, the guy refused to leave, he kept demanding that I let him in the house and to prove who I was, I showed him my license through the window to prove I wasn’t the guy he was looking for, but he still insisted I let him in so he could check the house (I’ll say at this point the previous owner had sold the house to us 2 years earlier, so he was a little late turning up to try and find him) in the end I called the Police to remove him. He came back the next day and parked down the street to watch the house, called the Police again, finally got a friends father who is a Solicitor to give the Debt collection company a call, never seen the debt collector again. Mind you we still get the odd letter turning up for the previous owner, all marked return to sender and popped back in the mail.

  • In the case of a rental property contact your rental agent. They may have the forwarding address of the previous tenants. They won’t provide the address to you for privacy concerns, but they will contact them directly on your behalf to advise them.

  • Some companies will persist in sending mail (hello direct mail marketing companies!) even after several “Return to Sender – no longer at this address” events.

    I have found writing “Return to Sender – ADDRESSEE DECEASED” usually works the best.

    • I like this one. I think I will have to start using it. Hopefully it might lead to the the companies actually chasing up the correct details.

      • More than likely though, it would just mean that the company would mark that person as deceased, which will cause them problems later down the line when they actually communicate with that company again.

        Also pretty sure that constitutes fraud.

  • How Can I Stop Getting Mail Addressed To Someone Else?This being the headline, I thought there might be a solution in the article somewhere….?

  • we have a empty box in our Mailboxes that people seem to dump any letters they get that don’t belong to them. Sometimes they disappear, hopefully it’s not someone interested in ID theft..
    Does the legislation cover, abandoning the letter? It’s not destorying it, or putting it in the rubbish bin.

  • With Australia Post nowadays, you’re lucky if you get your own mail delivered to you, let alone the previous tenant/owner.

  • I just throw it straight in the recycling bin

    We have been at our address for over 5 years now and still get the odd letter come through – usually junk mail not official mail – so it goes in the bin

    If they can’t be bothered to redirect it, I can’t be bothered to return to sender

  • Just change your name to the same as theirs and assume their identity. Change all of you legitimate business to their/your new name and you’re laughing. You can open and throw out all their mail that you like! 😉

    • I should have thought of that when i got someones tax return sent here (i get 5 different peoples mail sent here none with the same last name) but that was the only one i was tempted to open to read.

  • Last month I called a superannuation company to complain about mail that had been coming sporadically for a former resident of the house for fifteen years (he moved overseas in 1998). I’d been sending it back for some time.

    Their agent looked up the customer record on the database and saw that it had a notation on it “mail returned, not at that address”. Apparently no one could put 2+2 together there.

    The misaddressed mail that really shits me is magazines and other material wrapped in clear plastic, where it’s hard to redact the old address.

      • I hate that magazine, such a waste. And that RACV board voting, does anybody actually fill that in ?

        • funny thing is I am a roadside assist member, I don’t even get the magazine but someone else’s to my address – And Nope, no voting ever partaken, ever!

  • I did the return to sender / not at this address replies for about 3 months.. Mail was from the same few companies each week.. Unpaid bills etc from the former resident Im guessing… In the end i just wrote “FINAL NOTICE: Not at this Address” on it… No more mail!!!

  • After 7 years I got so tired of one company that I ended up writing on the envelope. “Has not live here for 7+ years. The next letter received will be left in a very public place where anyone may open & read miss xxxxx’s financial details.”
    Pretty sure this did the trick.

  • For the first two or three months I’ll write “return to sender” on front of envelope, and place in a post box. Then if I’m still receiving mail thats not addressed to me, I’ll toss in the rubbish bin.

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