Your mail is your property from the time the person sending it drops it in the mailbox, addressed to you. If your roommate is withholding your mail, they are not just a jerk. They’re committing serious federal and state crimes.
The U.S. government considers the mail to be a serious business. Everyone has the legal right to receive mail addressed to them, and your roommate does not have the right to withhold your mail for any reason.
If your roommate is not aware of how serious it is to mess around with someone else’s mail, you can:
- Inform them of U.S. mail regulations and how they are committing a third-class felony
- Document in writing each time you suspect missing mail or packages
- Make a complaint to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
- Report the mail theft to the police
- Protect your mail by getting a P.O. Box
Tampering with someone else’s mail is a crime. Take action, and don’t put up with it!
1. Learn The Legal Situation
The federal law covering mail theft is in U.S. Code 18, Section 1708. It’s a long and dry read, but essentially it says that stealing, taking, or withholding mail from any type of mail receptacle or mail delivery route is illegal and punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison, or both.
Here’s the exact wording of the law, in case you want to know the fine print or quote it to your roommate:
“Whoever 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; … Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
That’s quite a mouthful, and it’s only part of this legal code prohibiting your roommate from withholding mail from you!
I know, the word ‘withhold’ is not in the text, but keeping mail away from the intended recipient is covered by the words ‘secretes’ and ‘embezzles.’
Also, unlike other laws about theft, the monetary value of the mail doesn’t matter. So, even if your roommate withholds junk mail, they are still violating the law, and you can file a mail theft report.
The federal statute against mail theft isn’t the only law on the books against mail theft. States also have laws against taking someone else’s mail, and violation of state laws can be punished separately from violation of the federal law.
Just informing your roommate about the severity of tampering with mail may be enough to get them to stop doing it.
2. Talk to Your Roommate about Missing Mail
Are you sure it’s your roommate taking your mail? Sometimes mail is delayed or delivered to the wrong address, so don’t jump to conclusions and accuse your roommate without solid evidence.
You might start by asking your roommate about any mail that appears to be missing. If a roommate is withholding mail as revenge because you didn’t pay a bill on time, they might admit to it if you bring up the subject.
If your roommate denies taking your mail and you still suspect them of it, consider setting up a security camera to catch them in the act.
One roommate I read about bought a set of key finder fobs and mailed them to herself in multiple envelops.
These fobs make a sound when activated by a remote device, and she was able to use the fobs and remote to locate her missing mail in her roommate’s possession.
3. Take Notes Whenever You Suspect Missing Mail
If you know your parents sent you a check but it never arrived, write it down. If a bill does not come when you expect it, or your favorite catalog doesn’t show up, make a written note about it.
If you make a formal complaint to the police or the U.S. Postal Service, your notes will make your case stronger, more credible, and easier for authorities to investigate.
Each time you suspect mail is missing, write down the following information:
- The date and time you found out your mail was missing
- Where the mail was missing from, for example, from a shared mailbox or from the kitchen table where you left it
- What kind of mail is missing, if you know
- The monetary value of any missing mail
- Why you think it’s your roommate who is taking your mail
Even though it’s a crime to steal mail without monetary value, if the mail is valuable, or if someone is using your personal information for identity theft, the theft is a more serious crime.
4. File a Police Report about Missing Mail
Call your local police department or sheriff’s office, or go in-person to their office during regular business hours, and file a report about your missing mail. Do not report your missing mail through the 911 emergency phone number.
The procedure for filing a mail theft report varies from one place to another. So, inquire with the local law enforcement where you live to find out exactly how to file a complaint in your area.
5. File a Report with the U.S. Postal Service
Depending on the type of mail your roommate is withholding from you, you can file a complaint online or by phone.
If the mail you are expecting has a tracking number, you can file the report online at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/report/.
If your missing mail does not have a tracking number, contact USPS by phone at 1-877-876-2455 to make a report.
You can also send a mail theft report by letter to:
USPS, Criminal Investigations Service Center, 433 W. Harrison Street, Room 3255, Chicago, IL 60699-3255
6. Securing Your Mail from Your Roommatel
Four simple ways you can secure your mail are:
- Using the USPS Informed Delivery service
- Renting a post office box
- Having your mail delivered to the address of someone you trust, such as a friend or family member.
- Filing a change of address forms before you move
USPS Informed Delivery Service
The USPS takes a digital image of every piece of regular-sized mail in their system, and you have access to this information if you want it. Informed Delivery lets you go online and see a digital image of each envelope before it is delivered.
Signing-up for Informed Delivery notification is free, and it can help you figure out if your roommate really is withholding or stealing your mail.
Renting a Post Office Box
Another simple way of securing your mail is to rent a post office box at the nearest U.S. Post Office. Or, you can rent a box at a commercial mailbox business like Mailboxes, etc.
Doing this may be a bit inconvenient, and there is a cost. The cost depends on where you live, but the fee is usually between $20 and $40 for a six month rental of a small mailbox.
When you rent a post office box for mail delivery, large packages are held at the service counter, and the post office will put a notice in your mailbox informing you to pick up your package there.
The cost and inconvenience of renting a mailbox may be far less than what you stand to lose to a roommate who is withholding or stealing your mail.
Have Your Mail Sent to a Trusted Friend or Family Member
If you can’t afford to rent a post office box, consider having your mail delivered to someone you trust.
If you do this, you may want to set up a specific time to pick up your mail, so whoever it’s going to doesn’t feel put-out or resentful by helping you in this way.
If you have mail sent to your parents or a close friend, you may already have a key to their house. You can provide a cardboard box to leave inside the house near the front door for your mail delivery.
Ask the person to drop your mail in the box as soon as it arrives. This way, they won’t forget where they put your letters, and you won’t have to interact with them each time you go there to pick it up.
Send Change of Address Notices before You Move
When you move, be sure to send change of address forms to everyone who sends you mail. Send out these notices about a month before you move. The post office does not automatically forward mail.
However, you can get free packages of change of address forms from the post office to make it easier for you to let your correspondents know your new address.
7. Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
Unfortunately, identity theft is a big, illegal business. Your mail may be missing because your roommate is involved in this type of activity or is assisting someone else who is.
If you suspect identity theft, protect yourself by putting credit limits on your credit card accounts or using an identity theft alert system.
Also, contact your bank and ask about their procedure for protecting your accounts. You may need to get a new bank account number to secure your bank account. You can also ask the bank to send you a notification if they see unusual activity in your account.
Checking your credit report at a credit bureau agency such as Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian is another way of keeping an eye on your credit rating and detecting fraudulent use of your identity.
If you do suspect ID theft, immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at https://www.identitytheft.gov/
File an identity theft report with the FCC and get their assistance in protecting yourself and your assets.
8. Ask Your Roommate to Move or Move Yourself
If your roommate withholds or steals your mail, you are living with a criminal! Seriously consider dumping this person as a roommate.
Once you have taken precautions to protect yourself and your assets, ask your roommate to move out or find yourself a new place to live.
Follow up by filing a police report and a theft report with USPS. You will be helping to protect others, as well as yourself.