Anonymous snail mail forwarding (both directions)?
November 17, 2007 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Anonymous snail mail forwarding (both directions)? I AM NOT A CROOK.

For various reasons, none illicit, immoral, or even not nice, I am interested in getting an physical address, like a PO Box or something, that will forward any mail sent there to my actual address. Plus, remailing services such that I can send mail that is postmarked locally near that address.

Moreover, I would like some degree of confidence that my actual name and address will not be divulged. I would like to be able to receive mail sent to that address even if it is sent to some name other than my own (and not just one name, but many names).

I understand that this is probably sounding pretty shady. Well, what can I tell you, it's not. An example of what I want to do with this is to perpetrate a long-term practical joke, not mean or in any other way negative, on some of my friends. For this, I need a return address that cannot be associated with me (by the people sending to it; I don't care if the forwarding service knows my name, nor legal authorities or whatever; I don't even care if, when they forward mail to me, they use my real name).

I am in the United States. I don't care if the address is there too; in fact, I would like it to be (at least) non-local.

First of all, is this even legal in the US? Can I legally send a letter purporting to have a different (fictional) name than I actually do? Can I give a return address using that fictional name? Is it legal to use a foreign service for this sort of thing?

Do any mail forwarding services allow a generic "anything sent to this box number will be forwarded to your address", regardless of the name included, so that I could use multiple such fictional names?

I have found some websites (such as this) that seem to be at least partially what I want, but this seems like something that I really, really should make sure is legal, and that the forwarding company involved is reputable.

Thank you.
posted by Flunkie to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This book may be useful, in particular chapters 4 and 5.
posted by kanuck at 5:55 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I actually bought JJ luna's book a couple years ago in hopes of learning how I was being tracked and how to opt out of all sorts of commercial and official databases. it's somewhat of a letdown in that regard. luna's main recommendation is to form a limited liability company and have everything run in that name.

and yes, having a forwarding address is legal. citibank does it. ever sent a payment to "1 payment circle" in chicago? that street doesn't exist, it's a postal code that forwards to an address near union station downtown.
posted by krautland at 6:04 PM on November 17, 2007

Response by poster: It's not "having a forwarding address" that I'm worried about the legality of. It's "having a forwarding address using a false name".
posted by Flunkie at 6:13 PM on November 17, 2007

If you're not requesting money or other valuables then you don't have too much to worry about in terms of mail fraud but I'd be very careful to make sure you stay on the proper side of this. You should make very sure that your friends also agree with your assessment of this scheme as a harmless practical joke if you're treading near this line. It's okay to send mail using fake names it just makes it harder to send and especially rto receive. The words you should be searching for are "drop box" and if you toss in the word "anarchist" you'll find the stuff you're looking for and not a ton of email forwarding or that story about the Japanese baby. (example)

Anything that you read that talks about the US pre-9/11 may possibly be wrong There are more stringent requirements for identification in the world of the USPS and PMB operators now, so you'll definitely be looking for an independent operator. The fact that YOU are not doing something shady does not get around the fact that people who often use this sort of service are often doing things that are shady.

Be aware, the sort of ultimate privacy you are looking for is not cheap. The cheapest way to accomplish this is to have someone you trust (or a few someones) be intermediaries. If you're not mailing shady goods, there is no risk for them and if you're not doing anything wrong, they should have little incentive to rat you out.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 PM on November 17, 2007

I would like some degree of confidence that my actual name and address will not be divulged

If you are looking for this even in the face of a court order, you're going to have a very hard time. No legitimate service would agree to such a thing.
posted by grouse at 1:12 AM on November 18, 2007

You don't want it to be local, but are you willing to drive to send and pick up mail?

Scenario: Apply for a DBA (doing business as), which is $14 in my state, probably pretty cheap in yours as well. You can choose whatever name you like as long as it is not already registered. So you get 'John Smith' or 'Woody's Orgasm Distribution' as your DBA and go to a post office a town or two away. Sign up for a P.O. Box and send your mail from that post office.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 2:47 AM on November 18, 2007

Response by poster:
If you are looking for this even in the face of a court order, you're going to have a very hard time.
No, I'm not looking for this even in the face of a court order. I tried to be clear in several places - I'm not going to be doing anything illicit, immoral, or even mean, I don't care if the legal authorities know my name, et cetera.

And no, no money is involved, and I'm not "mailing shady goods", and so forth. Again, I've tried to be clear on this.

Regardless of what you may or may not suspect, please assume that the only legality issue that I'm interested in is "is it legal to send mail using a false name, give a return address using that false name, and receive mail sent to that false name".
posted by Flunkie at 9:00 AM on November 18, 2007

please assume that the only legality issue that I'm interested in is "is it legal to send mail using a false name, give a return address using that false name, and receive mail sent to that false name".

Yes, that's legal if you're not soliciting for funds or things of value.

However your set-up included such variables as "maybe many false names" and "confidence that your real name would not ever be divulged" both of which significantly complicate matters in terms of the rest of your question. Here where I live, for example, I have a different ebay name than my actual name. I tell the post office this and I can get mail to that name delivered to my PO box. There are not, to the best of my knowledge, laws that govern what you can and can't use as a return address outside the limits of mail fraud laws. It used to be a common postal mail "hack" to drop an unstamped package into a big city mailbox with no postage and the return address actually the address you wanted the package sent. The package would be returned to sender and voila your package would arrive at its destination. This is a shady but functional example of using a false return address.

What I may NOT be able to do is either open a PO or PMB box using that fictitious name, or have mail addressed to multiple names at one address always be delivered without some elaborate setup. Most mail drop systems that are for travellers or people wishing to remain anonymous usually are a little uptight about not being used for shady dealings and so your suggested scheme of having many names at one address may not fly with them or be difficult or expensive to set-up. Post-USA PATRIOT Act in the US most of these places that are truly reputable require some pretty serious ID up front.

Again, the fact that you personally are not doing anything suspicious dos not mean you are not looking to use tools that are often used by people doing suspicious things and so people are trying to explain the broad outlines of such tools. What is one persons harmless practical joke is another person's stalking/harassment tool and you should know that up front, no matter how benign your motives are.
posted by jessamyn at 9:24 AM on November 18, 2007

When you rent a PO box (or anywhere else where you have your mail delivered to a third party agent), you sign a USPS form, and show ID, and have it notarized. So, there is a paper trail establishing who rented the mailbox. A court order, or even a law-enforcement inquiry will almost certainly squash your anonymity.

Now, it sounds like that doesn't concern you, as long as whomever you're playing this joke on isn't able to find out.

I've used Mail Link Plus, in Vegas, to do snail mail forwarding, both directions, when I was living overseas. They're great, and just about the only independent mail forwarder that's reasonably well Internet-integrated (i.e. you get an email when you get mail, and you can use a web page to determine whether and when to forward it to you -- most of these services seem targeted at retirees with RVs, and expect you to call on the phone during business hours to check your mail.) It's about $150 a year plus postage.
posted by toxic at 9:34 AM on November 18, 2007

I'm not going to be doing anything illicit, immoral, or even mean, I don't care if the legal authorities know my name, et cetera.

Your "friends" can get a court order too.
posted by grouse at 9:34 AM on November 18, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, thank you, I know that my friends can get a court order.
posted by Flunkie at 11:05 AM on November 18, 2007

For what it's worth, my former boss had several aliases and four different mail drop accounts (at MailBoxes Etc, those types of places). He used them not only for the fake companies he had set up (long story short, he used these made-up companies as a means to provide credit references for his one real company), and he also used them to receive replies to the various personals ads he'd run in various "alternative" publications. All of those ad responses were addressed to one of the four or five nom de plumes that he used. As far as I could tell, there was no problem in having mail addressed to different names coming to these PMBs; the company just sent us a bill every quarter for the mailbox. (Yes, this was post-9/11.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:18 AM on November 18, 2007

(Sorry, that should say "noms de plume.")
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2007

you sign a USPS form, and show ID, and have it notarized

You do not have to have it notarized.
posted by oaf at 4:39 AM on November 19, 2007

(From the form itself that I linked above:)

NOTE: The applicant must execute this form in duplicate in the presence of the agent, his or her authorized employee, or a notary public.

If you sign the form (and show the appropriate ID) to the employee of the mailbox rental shop, then no, you don't have to get it notarized.

The great majority of people who run mailbox rental shops are also notaries public (because it's an easy additional service to offer). The great majority of these forms are notarized. It is an easy way for everyone involved to cover their asses when the cops come knocking (Who rented this box? "Joe Smith... here's his form, the xerox of his passport and drivers license, and here's his thumb print in my notary book." or "We think Joe Smith, but we're not sure which employee he signed this in front of, or whether that employee followed the procedure 100%").
posted by toxic at 8:20 AM on November 19, 2007

Sorry, I thought you were talking about post office boxes in an actual post office. You don't have to have anything notarized to get a post office box.
posted by oaf at 11:04 AM on November 19, 2007

I am in the UK and in my experience we do not have all this "notarized form" stuff to access mailbox services, so maybe you could get the service you need over here and avoid all this USPS regulations business. One I have used that should be easy for non-UK citizens to access is They don't advertise a remailing service but they do it on request. I have also seen (but not used) a service called, that will send a letter from Australia for you, I don't think it's remailing though, I think you have to email them a PDF.
posted by satellitebadger at 3:09 PM on November 19, 2007

In the UK, the Royal Mail will give the identity of a PO Box holder to anyone who has a good reason (I imagine claiming harassment from repeated anonymous mailings would be a good reason). They'd probably take a dim view of that service if they didn't do the same.
posted by grouse at 1:18 AM on November 20, 2007

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