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  #1  
Old 07-19-2011, 11:23 PM
ecoaster ecoaster is offline
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Mailing a letter with a deliberately wrong name and return address- illegal?

Let's say I want to get someone really important to read a letter I write. I realize I have 0 chance of having this person personally open a letter of mine with my own Joe Schmo name and return address on the envelope. So, to pull a sneaky ruse I print an envelope with the name of a supreme court justice in the upper left corner. I mark very professionally on the back of the envelope- "Privileged Communication- To be opened by intended recipient only."

Is this legal/illegal (assuming I state very clearly in the letter that I AM NOT actually a SJC)?

If this is illegal, am I looking at Federal Agents coming to my door, or is this pretty minor? Is there a federal mail law that makes this illegal? Am I looking at jail time?

Am I an idiot for even considering this?
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  #2  
Old 07-19-2011, 11:50 PM
dolphinboy dolphinboy is offline
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Nobody likes to play the fool. Do you really think someone would appreciate someone tricking them into opening a letter?

I doubt that it's illegal, unless it would somehow be considered fraud...
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  #3  
Old 07-20-2011, 12:14 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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I used to run into something like this when I worked in a prison. Mail going in to prisoners was subject to being opened and read. But we weren't allowed to read any legal mail (we could open up the envelope in order to verify there was no contraband inside). So some people would send in personal letters in an envelope with a law office given as the return address so it would appear to be legal mail.
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Old 07-20-2011, 12:58 AM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I used to run into something like this when I worked in a prison. Mail going in to prisoners was subject to being opened and read. But we weren't allowed to read any legal mail (we could open up the envelope in order to verify there was no contraband inside). So some people would send in personal letters in an envelope with a law office given as the return address so it would appear to be legal mail.
So, was this considered a criminal act?

I am doubtful such an act would be considered "impersonating" a public figure so long as there was nothing deceptive about the contents of the envelop. However, IANALawyer.

I also agree with dolphinboy. Crime or not, the recipient is going to be pissed, probably leading to the tossing it in the trash as soon as reading far enough to find out it's some kind of prank.
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  #5  
Old 07-20-2011, 05:14 AM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Boyo Jim View Post
So, was this considered a criminal act?
Probably not illegal.

But likely a violation of the prison rules, so they could take action against you (or actually, against the prisoner you were writing to).
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  #6  
Old 07-20-2011, 07:56 AM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
Probably not illegal.

But likely a violation of the prison rules, so they could take action against you (or actually, against the prisoner you were writing to).
Retaliating against a prisoner for the action of someone else sounds even more illegal to me.
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  #7  
Old 07-20-2011, 08:08 AM
Morgenstern Morgenstern is offline
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There was a joke store that sold preprinted envelopes with return addresses like
Penis enlargement information.
(your information is included)
and

Inpatient billing
Mathews Mental Health Hospital

all with bogus addresses. I doubt it is illegal to do that.
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  #8  
Old 07-20-2011, 08:08 AM
Antigen Antigen is offline
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I thought you had come up with the brilliant plan a coworker told me about a while back: if you want to send a letter and not pay full postage, just write the recipient's address as the return address, so when the post office rejects it for insufficient postage, it'll be sent "back" to your recipient! He told me he was going to start doing this because he had some old stamps only worth a few cents each and he didn't want to buy new ones when he could have so much fun this way, screwing the system.

I'm nearly positive that would be illegal, but I never bothered to look it up to be sure.
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  #9  
Old 07-20-2011, 08:26 AM
muldoonthief muldoonthief is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Antigen View Post
I thought you had come up with the brilliant plan a coworker told me about a while back: if you want to send a letter and not pay full postage, just write the recipient's address as the return address, so when the post office rejects it for insufficient postage, it'll be sent "back" to your recipient! He told me he was going to start doing this because he had some old stamps only worth a few cents each and he didn't want to buy new ones when he could have so much fun this way, screwing the system.

I'm nearly positive that would be illegal, but I never bothered to look it up to be sure.
I tried this once - I wrote a letter to one friend, with another friends return address (since I certainly didn't want my own info anywhere in case it was illegal) and no stamp. Inside there was a note to call me, (using a nickname) so I could find out what happened. As it turned out, the indended recipient got a notice in his mailbox that there was a letter waiting for him, so he had to go to the post office and pay the postage. Of course, he thought it was a registered letter and he was being sued or something, so he was not amused.
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  #10  
Old 07-20-2011, 08:39 AM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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I would have guessed it'd be mail fraud. Hopefully an actual lawyer will step in and let us know.
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  #11  
Old 07-20-2011, 01:05 PM
anson2995 anson2995 is offline
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Putting a fictitious return address is not mail fraud per se. Mail fraud requires the commission of some other act of fraud using the US Mail.

Adding the phrase "to be opened by intended recipient only" has no legal weight. The recipient is free to designate others to open his/her mail. Famous people who get a lot of mail tend to do this, and it's unlikely they'll bother to look at the return address.
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  #12  
Old 07-20-2011, 01:54 PM
Sailboat Sailboat is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ecoaster View Post
Let's say I want to get someone really important to read a letter I write.
For what purpose? Are you trying to serve this person with a legal summons or something?

Really important people often have their mail screened so as not to waste their time. The screener(s) are unlikely to be deterred by language specifying "addressee only" (which as already posted, has no legal weight), and are less likely the more important the person is. NO ONE is going to make the President of the United States open a package and be the first person exposed to whatever the sender intended.

The screener(s) will only pass the content forward if it appears to be worth consideration; "tricking" them will be pretty difficult. If what you are writing stands on its own merit, it will (in an ideal world) be passed forward.
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  #13  
Old 07-20-2011, 02:25 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is online now
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Originally Posted by Antigen View Post
...he could have so much fun this way, screwing the system.
Tangential, but what "system" is he screwing? The system is you & me.
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  #14  
Old 07-20-2011, 02:57 PM
ecoaster ecoaster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sailboat View Post
For what purpose? Are you trying to serve this person with a legal summons or something?

Really important people often have their mail screened so as not to waste their time. The screener(s) are unlikely to be deterred by language specifying "addressee only" (which as already posted, has no legal weight), and are less likely the more important the person is. NO ONE is going to make the President of the United States open a package and be the first person exposed to whatever the sender intended.

The screener(s) will only pass the content forward if it appears to be worth consideration; "tricking" them will be pretty difficult. If what you are writing stands on its own merit, it will (in an ideal world) be passed forward.
Without getting into too many details, the situation is that the person to whom I would like to write is the only person who can make an incredibly significant decision. Whether or not this person has all the details to make this decision is unknown, as those closest to him screen or limit what he sees. I and others involved in the "situation" believe that if the intended recipient sees what we see, he will clearly do what is right. Tricking someone into opening a letter doesn't feel right, but there seems to be no other recourse to convey a message.
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  #15  
Old 07-20-2011, 03:04 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Originally Posted by Boyo Jim View Post
Retaliating against a prisoner for the action of someone else sounds even more illegal to me.
The 'retaliation' would be something like refusing to allow him to receive mail from you, since you have previously used the mail to violate prison rules. So it's really an action against you -- refusing your mail -- but it also hurts him, because he loses communication with you.

And restricting mail to prisoners is definitely legal.
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  #16  
Old 07-20-2011, 03:10 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
I tried this once - I wrote a letter to one friend, with another friends return address (since I certainly didn't want my own info anywhere in case it was illegal) and no stamp. Inside there was a note to call me, (using a nickname) so I could find out what happened. As it turned out, the indended recipient got a notice in his mailbox that there was a letter waiting for him, so he had to go to the post office and pay the postage. Of course, he thought it was a registered letter and he was being sued or something, so he was not amused.
Quite right -- the Post Office will just collect the unpaid postage from the recipient before delivering the mail. (But my postman is nice enough to just leave a envelope at the door to collect it, without me having to go to the Post Office.)

If the recipient refuses to accept the letter, it will be Returned to Sender. And the Post Office will collect postage from the sender (or at least, the person at the return address). That is why many of the return envelopes enclosed with bills have a note where the stamp goes, saying "Post Office will not deliver mail without postage" or similar. People have tried that many times before, sending in their bill payment without a stamp. So now most billers automatically refuse to accept such mail, so it goes back to the sender (and the biller gets to charge you a late fee).
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  #17  
Old 07-20-2011, 04:05 PM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ecoaster View Post
Without getting into too many details, the situation is that the person to whom I would like to write is the only person who can make an incredibly significant decision. Whether or not this person has all the details to make this decision is unknown, as those closest to him screen or limit what he sees. I and others involved in the "situation" believe that if the intended recipient sees what we see, he will clearly do what is right. Tricking someone into opening a letter doesn't feel right, but there seems to be no other recourse to convey a message.
If someone is already screening their mail, why would you imagine putting a false return address on it would make any difference. Most likely, everything except obvious ad spam would be opened regardless of the return address, and passed on or not based on some criteria that might or might not be reasonable. In either case, your mail is treated the same.

It is possible that the VIP has given instruction to pass through some "special" mail unopened. But unless you know for sure what the instructions to the screeners are, good luck with that.

Does this person actually get mail from Supreme Court justices?
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  #18  
Old 07-20-2011, 07:08 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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Quote:
So, was this considered a criminal act?

I am doubtful such an act would be considered "impersonating" a public figure so long as there was nothing deceptive about the contents of the envelop. However, IANALawyer.

I also agree with dolphinboy. Crime or not, the recipient is going to be pissed, probably leading to the tossing it in the trash as soon as reading far enough to find out it's some kind of prank.
Quote:
Probably not illegal.

But likely a violation of the prison rules, so they could take action against you (or actually, against the prisoner you were writing to).
Quote:
Retaliating against a prisoner for the action of someone else sounds even more illegal to me.
Quote:
The 'retaliation' would be something like refusing to allow him to receive mail from you, since you have previously used the mail to violate prison rules. So it's really an action against you -- refusing your mail -- but it also hurts him, because he loses communication with you.

And restricting mail to prisoners is definitely legal.
It might have technically been illegal but it was pretty much a moot point. I never heard of any DA who chose to press charges over this.

We would take disciplinary action against the prisoner because that was really the best way to stop this. It's a lot easier for us to forbid a prisoner from receiving mail from John Smith than it is to forbid John Smith from sending mail to a prisoner.

Legally, it was a gray area. The argument we'd use was that the prisoner was a participant in the attempt to violate the prison mail regulations. That was sufficient grounds for us to find him guilty even if he never actually received the letter and we could therefore impose a punishment of denying him mail from that person. (And let's face facts. While the prisoner could deny that he had any knowledge that somebody was going to try to sneak a letter in to him, in 99% of the cases he knew it was happening.) Of course we also had to devise ways to deal with the admissibility of the evidence.
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  #19  
Old 07-20-2011, 07:12 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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Originally Posted by Boyo Jim View Post
It is possible that the VIP has given instruction to pass through some "special" mail unopened. But unless you know for sure what the instructions to the screeners are, good luck with that.
Don't know if it's true or not, but I once read in a novel that close friends and family of the President are told a number code that they're supposed to inconspicuously write on the envelope. If a letter with the code comes in to mail room, it's passed on to the President unopened.
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  #20  
Old 07-20-2011, 07:16 PM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is offline
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My guess/WAG is that as long as the contents of the letter makes it clear who the actual sender is, there is no "intent to defraud" the recipient and thus the sender would not be guilty of any postal offense requiring such intent. For example, the US Mail Fraud statute requires an Intent to Defraud.

I doubt that tricking someone into opening a letter where the recipient immediately realizes the trick after opening it constitutes "defrauding" them in any significant, legally cognizable way.

Now, if the Postal (or other) authorities are tracking who is sending mail to whom, and the sender knows something about this, one could make an argument that the sender is committing Obstruction of Justice if they knew that Postal Inspectors, prison officials, etc. are monitoring senders and recipients of mail but not opening the mail. That might be tough to prove though.
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  #21  
Old 07-20-2011, 07:32 PM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
Don't know if it's true or not, but I once read in a novel that close friends and family of the President are told a number code that they're supposed to inconspicuously write on the envelope. If a letter with the code comes in to mail room, it's passed on to the President unopened.
I've heard the same thing. I seem to remember that Jimmy Carter's "secret code" was an old phone number of his wife.
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  #22  
Old 07-20-2011, 07:38 PM
Cyclone Cyclone is offline
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When I really want someone to open a letter I send it in a big Fed-X envelope. I picked up on this from watching people in an office react when a Fed-X comes in.
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  #23  
Old 07-21-2011, 12:59 AM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
Tangential, but what "system" is he screwing? The system is you & me.
If an asshole/petty thief sent a letter to a known-to-be non address, with a dead or false return address, is this fraud?
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  #24  
Old 07-21-2011, 07:46 AM
Antigen Antigen is offline
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Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
Tangential, but what "system" is he screwing? The system is you & me.
I don't even know. He was one of those nuts who always had a better, and for some reason, sneakier, way to do everything and he got a real kick out of it.
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  #25  
Old 07-21-2011, 08:45 AM
Wheelz Wheelz is offline
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When I was in college, a friend and I started using 1-cent stamps to exchange letters. Twenty of 'em (the first-class rate at the time), which would cover nearly half the envelope.

The postmark would only cover a few of them, so the recipient would then cut out the un-cancelled ones and paste them on the next letter, with enough new stamps to make up the difference. It wasn't so much that we were too cheap to buy a 20-cent stamp; we pretty much did this just for a laugh.
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