Abusing return address on postal mail

I’ve always wondered what would happen if you put the intended destination address as the return address, your address as the destination address, and didn’t put a stamp on the envelope. Seems like they would send it back to the return address on the envelope, in which case you’ve successfully mailed a letter without postage. You may have to drop it off in the post office in the town of the recipient, which would make it a practically useless scam, but still I wonder.

It would work for an individual several times. However, there is a good rule of thumb that out of your local police, your sheriff, state police, FBI, U.S. Marshals, or U.S. Postal Inspectors, the latter is the one you least want to screw with. I am not kidding and I have seen it happen (but mainly for larger but similar things). They can be psycho for all intents and purposes and they all have war stories to tell.

Two friends of my decided to play mailbox baseball one night while we were in high school. They were caught and the next 18 months nearly destroyed their families. There was investigation after investigation and their families of not much means had to sink thousands each in lawyer bills for it. In the end, I think they got some type of probation but that was minor compared to what they had to go through.

My parents owned a store when I was young. The Postal inspectors nailed them for some type of coupon fraud that I never really understood. I just know that my mother cried night after night and thought that we might lose the store and everything else. The very act of mailing something marginally illegal can turn the act into a USPS dragon.

In summary, don’t screw with the U.S. mail at all, ever. It may work out for the time being but that $5 that you save could be a federal felony.

Interestingly, I often get commercial mail, like an invoice, with a return envelope included. The envelope is not marked as “Business Reply Mail” postage. But the return address is preprinted with the company’s address, same address as the destination address.

How do they get away with that? Is it fraud if I drop it in the mailbox with no postage?

They are probably willing to pay the postage on any envelopes they get that are missing postage. Probably doesn’t happen that often.

They get the envelope either way, but they wind up paying the postage. (Plus maybe a fee.) If you’re sending them an order, the postage is comparatively peanuts, so they don’t care that much.

Think of it this way: if it costs you $1,000 (low estimate) in lawyer fees if you get caught, you will need to successfully mail 2,500 letters to make it worth it. Let’s say you send 8 pieces of mail a day (high estimate) - you’ll need to successfully pull this scam off every day for a year.

Now, let’s say it costs you $10,000 and you only send 2 pieces of mail a day. You’re basically betting that you can get 40 years out of this scam.

About '69, IIRC, can’t find a cite, people would post unstamped utility bills. The law was changed so that those bills would just be dead-lettered.

Postal Inspectors are just as useless as the rest of law enforcement. I noticed several signs pointing to mailbox theft in my 'hood around Christmas, called the 800 number to file a report per the postmaster’s instructions, was told I’d have a callback within 72 hours and I’m still waiting to hear from them.

Business Reply mail is a nice little earner for the post office (in Australia at least, it costs them about double the price of a stamp - which is why charities often ask you to place a stamp on anyway if you can). To set up a business reply scheme for your business, you’d need to enter into a contract with the post office. The contract would guarantee the post office that you’d pay up, and would in turn allow you to bend the usual addressig rules a little. I am a postal employee but don’t work in this area, so it’s a bit of a WAG but I’m also reasonably sure I’ve got it about right.

The real scams are in other areas, usually involving international mail.

I did this once about 20 years ago, just to see what would happen. I put person A as the destination address, and person B as the return address - I wasn’t stupid enough to put my OWN name & address on the envelope. Person A (destination) got a notice in his mailbox to come to the post office to pick up the letter, and had to pay first class postage to get it. All it had in it was a note “If you get this, please call muldoonthief” (using only my nickname in case the Postmaster General got a hold of it). He was not amused. I don’t know what would have happened if he ignored the notice or refused to pay.

Shrug, if you’re really worried about postage use the glue trick.

The person you’re sending mail to has to be in on it. When you stamp a envelope, completely coat the stamp with a thin layer of white glue. The stamp gets cancelled, and the letter delivered. Have the person at the destination wipe the stamp with a damp cloth until the cancellation mark is gone, then reuse the stamp.

Business reply mail works the same way in the U.S. However, I read the OP as concerning one of those envelopes for which a stamp is needed, not one that was pre-paid. We get lots that have the business name in the return area but still require postage.

Letters lacking postage may get delivered to the destination address, but the carrier when delivering with request payment for the postage. If nobody is available to accept it, a notice will be left to pick up the mail at the post office.

IANAPE (postal employee). Just speaking from experience on the receiving end.

Out of curiosity, I tried that when I was 12 to see what would happen. I used my own address as the destination address, and my friend’s as the return address to see if he would get my letter “returned” to him.

Instead of being “returned to sender” letter arrived at my house, postage due. I can’t recall how they were put together, but the envelope arrived with a postcard addressed to the postmaster, onto which I was supposed to affix a stamp to pay for the letter that came without a stamp.

The fact of the matter is that to do anything so as to avoid paying the required postage is committing fraud. In the grander scheme of things, avoiding to pay 41 cents just because you might get away with it once (or several times) may not seem like any big deal. However, when quite a few folks do it all over the country, the dollar amounts add up and someone still has to pay to keep the entire process going.

Traditionally, attempting to defraud the government is never a good thing. What might have gotten you a slap across the wrist in the past has changed. In this post-9/11 paranoia Patriot Act world, the stakes are very much higher. Is it worth the risk?

Why just send a letter when you can send a whole box: