I received some strange mail -- what's going on? Scam? Nut?
May 6, 2013 3:37 PM   Subscribe

A strange piece of mail showed up at my house today. Someone wrote to himself, using my house as his return address. He got his own address wrong, and the mail was 'returned' to my house. I do not know this person. Any ideas as to what is going on?

The envelope is as follows:
1. Buddy's name on the front of the envelope,
2. Buddy's address is the main address, only it's missing the name of the town (which is one over),
3. Buddy's name is on the back, along with my address,
4. Both addresses are handwritten.

Inside appears to be one sheet of paper folded in quarters, with handwriting.

I have never heard of this person. I have no idea who he is.

I have owned my house for more than six years. As far as I can remember, this is not the name of a prior owner. I certainly have not received mail for/from this person before.

That said, it *may* be possible that the name listed is the same someone whose phone number I was assigned when I moved in, and was hounded for three or four years by collection agencies looking for the guy. By complete accident, I found out that that guy moved to a place on the street listed in the main address. It *might* be that guy, but I'm nowhere near certain on that.

Any ideas what this is about? I am extremely wary of opening the envelope, and inviting in some sort of scam. Is this a scam? What kind of scam would it be? Or is buddy simply a nutter?

HOPE ME, HIVE MIND
posted by Capt. Renault to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Open up the letter. This isn't the Necronomicon.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:42 PM on May 6, 2013 [30 favorites]


Alternate possibility: someone is trying to reach Buddy, doesn't know his address, but had two possible addresses so they mailed it to one and put the other as the return just in case. They mailed it to the first one, so it was "returned" to you.
posted by SoftRain at 3:54 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


similar but different
posted by bobdow at 3:55 PM on May 6, 2013


I'm not sure how opening an envelope can somehow trigger a scam. It's not an email. How will they know that you have opened it? What could this letter possibly say to override your already-paranoid instincts?
posted by acidic at 3:56 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there proper postage on the envelope?
posted by gjc at 4:07 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


IANAL but I don't know about just opening the letter, Necronomicon or not.

18 U.S.C.A. § 1702 addresses "obstruction of correspondence" with:

"Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

In this case, even though it was directed towards your residence, it doesn't have your name on it and thus is probably not directed to you in a nitpicky legal sense. Just to be the voice of paranoia.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 4:31 PM on May 6, 2013


so steam it open! >:)
posted by sexyrobot at 4:34 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is your mailbox secure? Could someone off the street take mail from your mailbox without your knowledge?
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:35 PM on May 6, 2013


Not to threadsit, I promise, but:

Is there proper postage on the envelope?
- Yes.

I'm not sure how opening an envelope can somehow trigger a scam.
- Granted, my legal background makes me more paranoid than most, but I will not open up mail that is not addressed to me since a) that's kinda illegal, and b) by opening mail I know is not mine, I'm worried about some sort acceptance of the contents or new responsibility placed on me by opening it up. This may be a silly concern, granted.

It is not my intention to open the letter. I am going to return it to the post office, saying 'this is not me, someone is using my address'.

I am asking only if anyone has an idea what buddy is trying to pull by using my address. I am not asking what to do with the letter itself.
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:35 PM on May 6, 2013


I'm super curious, how do you know it's a letter somebody wrote to himself if you haven't opened it?
posted by Andrhia at 4:43 PM on May 6, 2013


I'm super curious, how do you know it's a letter somebody wrote to himself if you haven't opened it?

The name of the sender and the sendee on the envelope are the same, implying that the sender and the sendee are the same person.
posted by davejay at 4:44 PM on May 6, 2013


Buddy used to live at your address.
The rest has nothing to do with you.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:46 PM on May 6, 2013


Is your mailbox secure?
- No, it's a milkbox on the side of the house.

I'm super curious, how do you know it's a letter somebody wrote to himself if you haven't opened it?
- You're right, I don't know that buddy wrote to himself. I know nothing of the contents of the letter. The name on the main address and return address are the same -- I'd assumed that some guy addressed it to himself, and I don't know if that's the case. So the searching-for-somebody theory is also a possibility.

Right. No more threadsitting. I eagerly await your conclusions.
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:48 PM on May 6, 2013


He could be writing to somebody (like an estranged father or son) with the same name, but got the address wrong because they are estranged.
posted by forza at 5:19 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this were a TV show: Buddy, former owner of your telephone number, was also a hard-drinking, frequently broke, but essentially honest investigative journalist.

A few years back, someone who knew Buddy at least by reputation (Buddybuddy? Buddy^2) got into trouble by stumbling into some scandalous government secrets. He made a bargain to keep them quiet in exchange for his own safety.

As a deadman's switch, Buddybuddy put the secrets into an envelope. Because he wasn't close to Buddy and didn't want to tell him the whole truth right then, he couldn't just ask for Buddy's current address. Instead, he did internet research and found two that looked equally plausible. He wrote those on the envelope as the main and return addresses, so either way, it should get to Buddy somehow.

Then Buddybuddy gave somebody -- his lawyer, his long-suffering grown-up daughter, that ex-wife he still trusted but no longer loved -- the envelope with instructions to drop it in the mail if they didn't hear from Buddybuddy for a few weeks.

Last week, Buddybuddy dropped off the grid. The envelope went in the mail. However, Buddy has moved from the address on the envelope, so it bounced back to you without Buddy ever knowing.

Buddybuddy's plan is foiled, Buddy has missed his shot at a Pulitzer, and The Man wins again.

In real life: I have no idea. I'd probably be curious enough to open it myself, but I realize that's not technically legal and I can see your reluctance to do so.
posted by shattersock at 5:21 PM on May 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


The worst that I can think of is that it's a trial run for some kind of address fraud; to see if they can swipe mail from your address without you noticing. That way they can demonstrate to a third party that they've received mail at your address. In addition to the speculation on that wiki page, it might be used as proof of residence in order to get your mail redirected; then they filter out what they want to keep and drop the rest off at your house.

I'm not saying this is the most likely scenario, but if I were you I'd find a way to secure your mail so that it's delivered through a slot into a box that only you can get into.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:25 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not an answer but "buddy" is a horrible choice for a generic name if you especially have no relationship with the person referred to. It made the whole thing a little bit more confusing
posted by mulligan at 5:35 PM on May 6, 2013 [19 favorites]


I once sent mail to myself so I would have "proof of address" (needed to replace lost IDs). Of course, I actually lived at that address. In other words—I've got nothing constructive to add to the discussion, but I'm curious about the answer and hoping that shattersock is on to something.

I admire your restraint. I probably would have opened the envelope on the return trip from the mailbox.
posted by she's not there at 5:37 PM on May 6, 2013


Don't open. Copy envelope for your records. Mark it undeliverable and take it to your post office to be put in dead letter office. Get a receipt if possible.
posted by MattD at 5:45 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are several legal tricks involving sending yourself a letter, for example to postmark a letter describing your patent idea. Obviously you're supposed to use your own authorized address, though.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:47 PM on May 6, 2013


He got the "address to" part wrong, seems consistent that he got the "address from" part wrong. I'd give it to your letter carrier and forget about it.
posted by arnicae at 6:06 PM on May 6, 2013


Just as a data point - I recently adopted a rescue dog. The foster mom gave me the contract with a return envelope she'd pre-addressed with her address as the send to AND the return . So maybe he was rushed, tired, confused, drunk or maybe your address is close to his and he just goofed it up. I'd probably open it since you KNOW he's never going to get it otherwise.

I got a piece of returned mail last year because the sender forgot to put a stamp on it. She'd also made her return address street number illegible so the mail carrier basically just guessed and dropped it off at my house. I opened it and it was a $50 ITunes gift card for someone's graduation. Luckily, the senders last name was in the card so I was able to track her down and return it. The point of that long story is there might be something important or meaningful in that envelope...it seems sad to not even look.
posted by victoriab at 6:53 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the Canada Post website:

Return to sender mail at your mailing address that you have never sent

For the past few years, unknown organized crime groups have been using the Canadian postal system to distribute Mass Marketing Fraud (MMF) mailings throughout North America. These mailings enter our postal system and try to legitimize the mailings by including various cover letters, company logos, return addresses, etc.

Why are you receiving those envelopes? The fraudsters will use legitimate return address and company name in order to make the envelope look more legitimate. If the mailing address is incomplete or the person is unknown at the address, the envelope is returned to the address listed as the sender. The fraudsters are not interested in the envelopes which are returned to sender as it did not reach their potential victim.

Canada Post’s approach to this problem has been in a supportive role to law enforcement communities in their investigative strategies; the Security & Investigation Services team works very closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre, United States Postal Inspection Services and the Competition Bureau and others in these matters.

The majority of these MMF mailings are destined to US consumers.
Despite Canada Post efforts, there is still a quantity of MMF mail which manages to be processed and delivered to the United States. Some of these MMF mailings are intercepted by the United States Customs and Border Protection at the US Postal Service International Service Centre. In these cases, your company may receive a letter from the United States Postal Inspection Service regarding “Determination Non-Mailability”.

While the US Postal Service is aware of these fraudulent schemes, the letter is forwarded in accordance with their regulations and legal framework.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:58 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've actually done this to an envelope a couple times if it was a SASE situation. the idea being that no matter what, it's coming back to me.
posted by Miko at 8:31 PM on May 6, 2013


Similar to shattersock's theory but far less creative, I've been on a retreat where we did a "write yourself a letter to read one year from now" thing, and the director of the retreat or somebody was in charge of mailing out all the letters after a year.

Six years would be a long time for this, but perhaps he got the address wrong and it was supposed to go next door or something.
posted by celtalitha at 10:34 PM on May 6, 2013


Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Dude wrote a letter to himself and got the address wrong.
posted by fearnothing at 12:51 AM on May 7, 2013


I think the most likely answer here: Alzheimer's. People with Alzheimer's do things like this - things that involve memories and tasks. This person could easily have wanted to send a letter, like he or she had done so many times in the past-- but the process gets confused. Illogical. This also explains the lack of town on the main address. He/she either once lived in your house or wrote to someone there so knows the address

My dad has Alzheimer's and does odd things, though he seems to feel they are normal (eg. His wife found the butter in a drawer in the bathroom). I suspect attempting to write letters is very common with Alzheimer's sufferers of the letter writing generation.
posted by ecorrocio at 5:53 AM on May 7, 2013


I've written " return to sender: no longer at this address" on stuff sent to my home using someone else's name and the post office has picked it up without incident.
posted by brujita at 6:26 AM on May 7, 2013


Right. After a sleepless night worrying about this stupid thing, it's going right back to the post office unopened, after photocopying the envelope and marking it that there's no such person at my address.

Opening/stealing someone else's mail is illegal, and I simply can't do that, even if no-one is likely to find out. Even if it weren't illegal, I would still find it personally rude.

I'm going with a stupidity or Alzheimer's explanation, as that's an innocent explanation that has nothing to do with me, and I hate worrying about these sorts of things.

Apologies for the confusion over the use of 'buddy'. It's Canadian slang (or perhaps even just regional slang) for some low-level asshole who has done you a personal wrong, but remains a stranger to you. I failed to remember that this slang is hardly universal, however often I use it. Again, sorry.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:46 AM on May 7, 2013


The worst that I can think of is that it's a trial run for some kind of address fraud

Yeah, and that can get pretty bad actually!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:45 AM on May 7, 2013


The only reasons I could think for someone to send a letter to themselves is:

1. Stamp collector. Uncirculated stamps aren't worth nearly as much to collectors as those which have been attached to an envelope and postmarked and mailed. Most collectors who send mail to postmark a stamp for their collection send an empty envelope with their address as the return and the destination.

2. Establish residence at an address. This can be for many reasons, but it's usually involving identity or for legal reasons.

It's possible someone accidentally sent a letter to themselves at the wrong address, but if it happened to me I'd immediately become suspicious of someone trying to set up mail/identity fraud using my address, in other words #2. Because it's just too risky to ignore it, unless I personally knew the person named on the envelope as a neighbor who lived on the same street, I'd return it to the post office in person, making sure they stamped it "not at this address," so as to make my own paper trail establishing that this person does not receive mail at this address in case they try again. I would also try to get a record or receipt, as another person also recommended.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:50 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Capt. Renault: "Right. After a sleepless night worrying about this stupid thing, it's going right back to the post office unopened, after photocopying the envelope and marking it that there's no such person at my address."

I see you'd already taken care of it. Well, you did everything you could to protect yourself within reason, which is all anyone can do and not become paranoid

Hmm. I usually nickname all dogs (mine or otherwise) 'buddy' as a term of endearment. I hope none of them were Canadian.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:25 PM on May 9, 2013


"Capt. Renault: "Right. After a sleepless night worrying about this stupid thing, it's going right back to the post office unopened, after photocopying the envelope and marking it that there's no such person at my address."

I see you'd already taken care of it. Well, you did everything you could to protect yourself within reason, which is all anyone can do and not become paranoid.

Hmm. I usually nickname all dogs (mine or otherwise) 'buddy' as a term of endearment. I hope none of them were Canadian.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:27 PM on May 9, 2013


...with their address as the return and the destination.

When I returned it to the post office, I asked the lady behind the counter what she thought. She hemmed and hawed a bit, and offered a few suggestions as in this thread.

It was only when I asked "why would they be using my return address as their own" that it clicked that there was something else going on.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:56 AM on May 10, 2013


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