Theft is always a crime, regardless of where it happens or who the victim is. However, certain kinds of theft are automatically considered matters of federal law. Mail tampering, although a seemingly minor offense, is one of them.
A conviction can lead to decades in federal prison or millions in fines, depending on the exact charges. Packages and other deliveries are two protected by federal law.
In fact, the Post Office has a specific federal law enforcement branch dedicated to mail crimes like tampering, fraud, and theft. So if you’re tempted to tamper with someone else’s deliveries in Chicago this holiday season, you might want to reconsider.
Here are five mail tampering crimes that could lead to surprise federal charges…
Opening Someone Else’s Mail
Mail is supposed to be opened only by the person to whom it is addressed. If you receive a package or envelope for someone else, like a neighbor, family member, or former resident of your home, it is technically illegal to open it.
Believe it or not, you could receive up to five years in prison if convicted. Even worse, you could be charged with identity theft if the mail you open contains sensitive information.
If you are going to open a family member’s mail, it’s best to have their written permission.
Faking Package Weight
If you fudge weights on official scales for your holiday packages, you’re also committing a federal crime. A few other seemingly harmless activities that fall under this law include:
- Not paying for postage
- Reusing stamps
- Underpaying for postage
Three men who established a Chicago-based bulk mailing company, for instance, are currently facing fraud charges for allegedly collecting upwards of $16 million in fraudulent postage!
They could now wind up serving 20 years each in federal prison — not to mention owing fines and restitution.
Destroying Other People’s Mail
Destroying mail is just as bad as opening it. You could be destroying paychecks, important medical information, or even government documents like birth certificates and drivers’ licenses.
The destruction of federal mail can have the same high fines as opening someone’s mail, if not more. Moreover, when the information destroyed can be considered government material, you could face additional fines. Up to $100,000 for damage of less than $100 in value, in fact.
Committing General Fraud through the Mail
If someone is running some kind of general fraud through the mail, then that crime is also considered mail fraud. Take one Rockford man who was recently charged with both investment fraud and mail fraud.
Because the information regarding faulty investments was conveyed by mail, he received three years in prison and nearly $800,000 in fines for his federal conviction.
Placing Unstamped Objects in Mailboxes
Were you aware that mailboxes are considered government property? It’s true. So damaging a mailbox counts as harm to government property, as does placing non-mail objects in them.
If an item is placed in a mailbox, it should be intended to be mailed and have all postage taken care of. This includes residential, commercial, and governmental mailboxes.
While the law is primarily intended to prevent flyers and advertisements without paying postage, reconsider hand-delivering Christmas cards or presents to a mailbox this holiday season. Instead, slide them under the door or leave them on the stoop.
Mail tampering is no joke. Be safe this holiday season, and pay all postage due. Hand-delivering presents is great, but it’s safest to do so without involving any postal property. Avoid mail tampering charges this year, and your holidays will go much more smoothly.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.