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.


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