Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to the mail. Carriers sometimes misread an address, letters can shift around in the back of the truck and people move without updating their addresses — all circumstances would could result in you receiving mail intended for another recipient. Here’s what you should do if you get mail that doesn’t belong to you.
If the mail is delivered to the wrong address
If the mail you’ve received is not only for someone else, but for a different address than yours altogether, do not open it and do not throw it away. To correct the mistake, you have two options:
Deliver it yourself: If the letter is clearly intended for a nearby neighbour, and you can physically open their mailbox, feel free to deliver the letter to the correct address yourself. You could also knock on their door and hand it to them if you know them (or feel comfortable doing so).
Write a note and stick it in the outgoing: If the correct address is far away or you just don’t feel like dealing with delivering it yourself (which is totally fine), simply write a note that says something to the effect of “wrong address” and attach it to the wrongly delivered piece of mail (a sticky note or a paperclip are good ways to do so). A postie will pick it up next time around and it will be delivered to the correct address in the next couple days.
It’s best not to write your note directly on the envelope or article and risk defacing someone else’s mail, say rural mail carriers Tara O’Sullivan and Julia Bavaro. If you use a marker or Sharpie and it bleeds through, it could cause the intended recipient more grief than is necessary. Attach it with a paperclip or a sticky note instead.
If the mail is for a former resident
If you’re receiving someone else’s mail with your correct address, you need to inform the post office they no longer live there. Again, a sticky note placed on the letter with a message like “person no longer lives here” will do the trick. Stick it in the outgoing and hope the post office adjusts their records. This might take a few tries, and you may even have to call the post office if it continues.
Just be careful that the mail doesn’t say “[other person’s name] or current resident”; That mail is technically addressed to you as long as you live in that residence, whether you want to receive it or not. If you keep telling the post office “person doesn’t live here” with “or current resident” mail, they might assume the residence is vacant and stop sending mail there entirely. When in doubt, a trip to the post office or phone call can often clear things up.
This article was originally published on January 8, 2018 and updated in July 2020. Updates included a copy edit, checking links, updating the text to reflect current Lifehacker style and adding a new header image.