Do I open misaddressed imporant mail to let the sender know that it's not the right address?
April 9, 2008 3:54 PM   Subscribe

I keep getting mail for a previous tenant, and I am quite sure this latest one is from a collection agency. I want to return it, but there is no complete return address on the outside of the envelope. Do I open the envelope to check the complete address?

I've lived at my place for 5 years, and there was nobody in there before me for months so I have no clue who this person even is. Over the years I have received several letters for him from the UK (I'm in Canada), but it seems that if I write "return to sender -This person doesn't live here" it doesn't really do much. I tried that all the time, and letters kept coming. There was one long stream of letters that ended with a really serious URGENT one. THAT address I googled and found that it was a student debt collecting thing (also in the UK), so I sent them the closed envelope back with a letter explaining that they were sending stuff to the wrong house. I kept copies of that just in case, but that stream of letters ended. Yay.

Now this letter is from a different return address. I want to send them a letter too, because it helped stop the previous stream of mail. There is no company name or department or person, just a building and street address. I don't think it will end up with the right person if I just return it. I Googled the address again, and it's an office building. One of the offices in there *is* a debt collecting agency and I'm pretty sure they are the sender, but not 100% sure.

So, do I open it and then send back, or is that A Bad Thing? I could have opened it by accident (that happened before with one of his old ones too)

What's the alternative? Just leave it and waiting for a guy to come at my door?

The stupid thing is: I bet the only reason that this person is in debt is because he never gave a change of address to whoever sent him bills in the first place. He doesn't even KNOW that he's getting all this mail.
posted by easternblot to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Just write "not at this address" and stick it back in the mail.

Don't open up other people's mail, especially if you don't know the guy's new address to forward it to him. What would be the point?

And I'd bet he knows he's not getting his mail and doesn't care.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:10 PM on April 9, 2008

Write "Not at this address" or "Addressee unknown" and drop it back in the post. The postal service will take care of it from there.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:10 PM on April 9, 2008

Not your problem. I'm pretty sure opening it would be breaking the law. Give it back to the post office with what you know written on the envelope.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:14 PM on April 9, 2008

My Pop, a letter carrier, says just to write "REFUSED" on the front, and maybe a note that no one by that name lives there anymore. Then, give it to your carrier.

When you refuse mail, it goes back to the sender, and you can refuse any mail you wish.
posted by SlyBevel at 4:32 PM on April 9, 2008

Mmm.... I've been doing the "not at this address" etc. thing for YEARS with this guy's mail, and the previous stream of mail stopped ONLY after I sent a signed letter with my own name. It seems that if I just write something on the envelope and throw it back in the box, it either doesn't get there, or nobody cares (except me, who gets all the mail)

I also found this thing about British collection agencies. The person named Elizabeth has a very similar story to mine.
posted by easternblot at 4:33 PM on April 9, 2008

i asked my mailman this question at my old house. his answer: "eh, just throw it away" so that's what i do. seriosly what are you gonna do hire a detective to find this guy?
posted by swbarrett at 5:57 PM on April 9, 2008

You have no obligation to do any particular thing with mail for previous tenants. You can open it, read it, wipe your butt with it, light a fire with it, throw it away, whatever.

You're being too conscientious.
posted by jayder at 6:28 PM on April 9, 2008

At this point, I'd just throw it out.
posted by astruc at 6:35 PM on April 9, 2008

If there's no return address on the envelope, it's not that important. Write "not at this address" so maybe the post office can do something about it. Or throw it away.
posted by gjc at 7:37 PM on April 9, 2008

Don't open his mail. Violation of federal law.
posted by Capri at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2008

Cost-benefit analysis here. You're putting far too much cost (effort) into this for no benefit to you or the sender. Zap the cost: throw it away.

That having been said, if it's just far too much of a mindscrewing, then ... well, if you don't want to violate federal law and open up the mail (on that, I will not advise you to break the law, but, seriously, how many people are caught or fined for opening someone else's mail — we are not talking about dragnets and sting operations for heinous crimes to the public here) ...

Anyway, if you want to adamantly not open the mail, and you really would like this to stop, then I'd look up the return address on Google, etc., and be very, very pleasant with the people who answer. Bill collectors I imagine are not used to very courteous people. Do the whole "new tenant in apartment, guy moved, you're accomplishing nothing by sending them to me, I ain't him, etc." routine with the people who answer the phone.

Would not do the letter route. (a) Effort-intensive and (b) less likely to work, at least IMHO.
posted by WCityMike at 9:52 AM on April 10, 2008

There *is* a return address on the envelope, but no company name, and the address is an office building with multiple occupants.
That's why I don't think it will end up with the right people if I just throw it in the mailbox, etc. etc. etc. see original extended quetion.

But whatever, I'll just "Return to Sender"" it again and wait for the steady stream of mail to come, which I have to send back over and over and over and over and over.
Ot I'll just move.
posted by easternblot at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2008

You could try adding the extra details of the collections office onto the front of the envelope before you send it, with maybe a note on the back saying something like "I'm guessing about the company, hope I got it right!". They'll either recognise it as one of theirs and deal with it (since I'm assuming you'll also put the 'no longer at this address' bit on the front), recognise who it should belong to (they're in the same building so it's possible) and pass it along, or open it without realising, see who it's for and either pass it on or throw it out.

You don't have a lot to lose this way. You're going to return it to sender anyway and without adding details I agree that it probably won't go where it should. By making a guess you're at least increasing the chances of it getting to the right place a little bit and I don't see a downside if you get it wrong. If you keep getting mail you could always try other businesses in that building in the hopes you eventually hit on the right one, and the collection agency does seem like a good shot to start with.

I hate getting other people's mail in my letter box and can see the value in putting in a small amount of effort now to try and stop it.
posted by shelleycat at 1:48 AM on April 11, 2008

I already sent it back with "moved" on it (and some more words to make sure they send it back).
I did remember to write "UK" under the address on the back this time. This person also used to get a lot of mail from Hamilton in the UK, and there is a Hamilton very close to Toronto in Canada as well, so I guess that whenever I forgot it there it just ended up in the wrong Hamilton.
posted by easternblot at 1:47 PM on April 15, 2008

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