What to do about neighbor who looked through our mail?
February 12, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Last week, my wife and I were out (no cars in the driveway), but my mother-in-law was at home and she saw our next door neighbor looking through our mail as he was walking his dog. I'd like to confront him without ruining our friendship. Any suggestions?

My mother-in-law says when he saw her by the window he put the mail back and kept walking.

Some background:
We moved into a very friendly neighborhood about 2 years ago. Our neighbor has been very friendly - once giving us tickets to a football game, another time letting us bother his air pump, and overall being very nice. He is retired and stays at home most of the time.

This has really bothered me and I'd like to confront him without antagonizing him. Its more of a superficial friendship as we only talk when we see each other outside, however I'd rather not have problems with our next door neighbor.

How can I go about doing this?
posted by tedunni to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Clarification: The mail is in a mailbox at the end of your driveway or walkway? Something like that? He's not putting a piece of mis-directed mail in your mailbox?
posted by fixedgear at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about couching it as, "Hey "Jim," just wanted to let you know that if we ever got any of your mail we'd bring it right over."

He'll know you know, and it lets him save face a bit. Obviously if it happens again, you'll have to be more direct, but it's worth a shot.

Also, I'd keep a close eye on your credit and bank statements, etc. Identity theft is shockingly common and often perpetrated by people close to their victims.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Is it possible to put a lock on your mailbox? Some boxes I've seen have a slot for mail to go in but require a key to get that mail out. Is this applicable to you? This way you don't have to confront him and if he says anything just make something up about punk kids putting unpleasant things in your mailbox.
posted by LunaticFringe at 11:04 AM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you are really concerned, I'd set up a camera in your window to keep watch for a bit. Otherwise, I'd chalk it up to a random event; there are certainly plausible explanations (not that excuse snooping). For example, our mail person was regularly mixing up mail for several houses in our neighborhood, and we would regularly just bring it to the correct mailbox. I can understand someone flipping through the stack to see if any of their own mail.

If you do want to bring it up in a non-antagonizing way, ask him if he's seen a letter from company XYZ in his mail. Mention you've been expecting it, and you were just wondering if it was sent to the wrong house. That way if he has been looking through your mail, it might scare him off. If he hasn't, then he'll just be on the look out for a letter sent to the wrong address.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:06 AM on February 12, 2009


He's not putting a piece of mis-directed mail in your mailbox?

Seconding. Its not clear to me how your mother-in-law could distinguish whether this was the case or not. And it sounds like the likely case to me. Why not assume this was the case?
posted by vacapinta at 11:06 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have put many mis-delivered pieces of mail in their proper box...happens all the time.
posted by lobstah at 11:16 AM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Say this the next time you see him: "Would you believe it? My mother-in-law insists she saw you reading our mail!" He'll laugh with you and stop it.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:22 AM on February 12, 2009


There is a difference between being direct and being confrontational. Better to just ask the guy, but it also may help to give him a way out.

"Hi Jim. My mother-in-law tells me that she saw you opening our mailbox while walking your dog last Wednesday about 11:00 am. Were you returning some of our mail delivered to you by mistake?"
posted by ND¢ at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I like the ND¢ approach but would flip it. "Those wacky postal employees. Did some of our mail go to your house? Oh, why do I ask? My MIL saw you putting mail back in my box yesterday. About 11 a.m."

You're not accusing him of anything, you're giving him an out, you're graciously assuming the innocent explanation, you're both commiserating about the quality of the letter carrier's work -- but he'll know you know, and will stop.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:32 AM on February 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


2nding Carol Anne.
posted by demagogue at 11:32 AM on February 12, 2009


Just tell him to keep an eye on his mailbox, because you heard that someone was going through your mailbox. So if he was doing so for any number of innocent reasons he'll probably say so; if not, at least he knows that he's not invisible.
posted by troybob at 11:42 AM on February 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


One incident that you did not personally see: Don't say anything.

Repeated incidents, missing or opened mail: Say something.
posted by sageleaf at 11:46 AM on February 12, 2009


The real issue here is that you're working with second hand information. You don't know anything for certain. You only know what someone else thinks she saw. Be careful.

If you have reason to suspect your neighbor is up to something, set up a camera. 2nding Troybob's advice too.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2009


If he was walking his dogs at the time, he certainly was not trying to be inconspicuous. He wasn't dressed in black, wearing a hoodie, going through your mail.

That said, it sounds like he knows he was seen, so if he hasn't provided an explanation by now, you need to prompt him for one.

If there's a good explanation, it's settled.

If there isn't (or you don't believe him), then maybe it's time to reevaluate the friendship you thought was established.

Friends don't do what (you think) he did without cause.

You have to confront him about it, because if you don't, it'll always bother you and that, in itself, will ruin the friendship .

It's better to know or not to know, and THEN to take action.

Walk over right now and settle it.
posted by elpiconeroalcognac at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2009


The mail is in a mailbox at the end of your driveway and its not close to his driveway at all. Also we haven't missed anything recently. And my mother-in-law said she saw him take out our mail and sift through it and when he saw her he put it back.

I like what elpiconeroalcognac said because this is bothering me and might always bother me until I have a good explanation. And I might use the CarolAnne's approach, which sounds harmless (but I"m not sure if I can pull it off in person without sounding upset). But another voice in my head keeps saying what others have said - "Its second hand information, and this has only happened once, just let it go"

Tough decisions...
posted by tedunni at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2009


I have put many mis-delivered pieces of mail in their proper box...happens all the time.

I had always assumed that the best way to handle mis-delivered mail was to write "Wrong address" and place it back in the outgoing mail. Seems like hand-delivering mail to someone else's mailbox could be a potential big deal.
posted by odinsdream at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2009


He saw her see him? I think troybob's is the best response. It clarifies that your mother-in-law said someone was going through the mail, but not that she told you it was him. It makes her look more discreet, and saves him some face. I would think that would stop the behavior and prompt him to bring mid-delivered mail to you when you're home.
posted by juliplease at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2009


mis-delivered
posted by juliplease at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2009


I had always assumed that the best way to handle mis-delivered mail was to write "Wrong address" and place it back in the outgoing mail. Seems like hand-delivering mail to someone else's mailbox could be a potential big deal.

While it certainly may be the officially correct thing to do, I don't agree with this. If I know my neighbor, and we are on friendly terms - if I get his/her mail in my mailbox, I am going to run it by their front door or throw it in their mailbox. It's the friendly thing to do!
posted by Brettus at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is your mother-in-law we're talking about here- I would tend to think she's overly fussy/protective/paranoid and misinterpreted what she saw.

Nthing the misdelivered mail. Whenever I would get neighbor's mail I would go down the road and put it in their box.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2009


I had always assumed that the best way to handle mis-delivered mail was to write "Wrong address"...

Best to mark it 'mis-delivered' rather than 'wrong address.' In my neighborhood mail delivery is not terribly accurate, and I've had a couple magazine subscriptions canceled because they got an issue back marked 'wrong address.'
posted by troybob at 12:54 PM on February 12, 2009


He doesn't sound like a shady character, so if it were me I'd think that either the mailman screwed-up and he was dropping-off a piece of your mail that ended-up in his box while he was out walking the dog anyway, and checking at the same time that none of his mail was in your box, or he was expecting something important that day such as a pension check which didn't arrive, so again just checking it wasn't mixed-in with yours. Really, there's no way to know without asking.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2009


Seconding the suggestion to get a locking mailbox. As my high school autoshop teacher said about door locks on cars, "it'll keep honest people honest."
posted by mosk at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2009


The mail is in a mailbox at the end of your driveway and its not close to his driveway at all. Also we haven't missed anything recently. And my mother-in-law said she saw him take out our mail and sift through it and when he saw her he put it back.

What hungrysquirrels said. I'll add this: He's retired. He's probably the mayor of your street, right? He walks the dog, he looks for suspicious cars, he sees who is home or away. He lent tools and gifted tickets. Not to be all Pollyanna here, but I'd ascribe well-intentioned but ill-thought-through motives. It looks like troybob has it.
posted by fixedgear at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2009


mis-delivered? WTF? If I get misdelivered mail, I 1) ring the doorbell/knock. Yes, even if the mail box is at the end of the driveway, and if no one answers, I 2) put the mail in the mailbox as quickly as possibly. I don't try to reorder the mail, and I make it clear that not taking anything out, or trying to see what's in there. The door/flap gets opened with one hand, the other hand puts in the letter, and I leave. Again, nothing is removed. I know, it seems simple, but so many people have said that he was just delivering misdelivered mail, and I find that absurd unless your MiL *greatly* exagerated his actions.

There is no reasonable excuse to remove mail from anothers mailbox without preapproval, even if one puts it all back. Even if all of the mail is put back, it is inappropriate to checkout who's sending one's neighbor mail and how much their getting. Your neighbor was snooping through your mail, plain and simple. Sorry, at least snooping through your mail. If he hadn't noticed being seen, he might have taken some things inside to steam open and view.

If you want to be (mostly) non-confrontational, then I'd do as charmcityblues mentioned, and let your neighbor know that if you get any mail to be delivered to he can rest assured that you'll bring it to him unopened, but it is completely inappropriate for him to look through your mail.

And if I were you and had a spare webcam kicking around, I would *have* to set it up to start recording. If nothing else, you'll get some good squirrel footage.
posted by nobeagle at 1:16 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd say "hey have you seen anyone monkeying around with your mailbox? My Mother in law saw someone going through ours a few days ago when we weren't home. isn't that weird?" That lets him know that he was seen, without accusing him directly. Maybe he'll come clean and admit it was him, maybe not, but he won't do it again.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:58 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I drop off misdelievered mail to my neighbours but I usually check the mail in the mailbox to make sure the last name matches up. I know my neighbours by name, but not last name.
posted by saucysault at 2:19 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Your neighbor may not be aware that tampering with someone else's mail is a federal crime for which the maximum penalty is five years in prison. Your mailbox, even if you purchased it yourself, is property of the USPS.

You could casually mention that you just heard about this law, and what a hoot! Who would risk federal prison for something that dumb?
posted by dhartung at 3:03 PM on February 12, 2009


Is there a chance what your mother in law really saw was your neighbor bringing over a piece of your mail that was mistakenly delivered to his mailbox? Maybe the box as full, so he pulled out the mail and then added the mail he'd brought before putting it all back in the mailbox? Granted, that's not a smart way to do it... but...
posted by 2oh1 at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2009


Yeah, I agree with troybob and others re: the "she saw someone" vs. the "she saw you" approach. Next time I saw him, I'd probably say something like "Hey John, have you had any problems with missing mail or anything like that recently? My mother in law said that she saw someone going through our mail last week, and while I don't think anything is missing, I was wondering if this had been happening to other people in the neighborhood, too." That approach lets you maintain the casual, helpful & friendly neighbor relationship while also a) letting him know that you know something's up with the mailbox and b) giving him a chance to explain himself if the reason turns out to be something innocuous.

If he doesn't fess up (or if he offers a really fishy explanation), I'd still think about looking into a locking mailbox. It won't necessarily seem antagonistic given that you've already established that you're concerned about this mysterious mail snoop, and it'll make sure that if he did have some nefarious (or merely nosy) purpose in mind that he won't be able to do it again.

(As an aside, the one plausible excuse I can come up with for going through your mail would be if he was expecting something in the mail that had supposedly been delivered but never showed up in his own mailbox. Of course, it'd make much more sense in that case if he just asked you if you'd received it, so... I don't know.)
posted by I Said, I've Got A Big Stick at 4:30 PM on February 12, 2009


Lock your mailbox.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:55 PM on February 12, 2009


Another possible explanation: Maybe he was missing an important piece of mail and thought it was misdelivered to you or another neighbor. That might explain looking through your mail a bit. I'm not saying that that is the proper way to deal with that situation.

I've received neighbors' mail often and either stick it directly in their mailbox (but don't dawdle around the box) or put it back in mine with the flag up. I've had more than enough expected mail never arrive at my house, and I figure neighbors don't bother to put misdelivered stuff back in their mailboxes always (nice of them).

I'm a pretty passive-aggressive person, and I like the idea of saying that your mother-in-law saw 'someone' looking through your mail and that they should take precautions in case that person is going around the neighborhood. That seems like it would get the hint across that you're aware of what happened without actually accusing him of any wrongdoing.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2009


« Older I'm having pervasive sexual th...   |  How best to "repurpose&qu... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.