Old USPS ads saying you can keep misdelivered mail

There were a bunch of Postal Service ads in the '70s showing that if you got something in the mail erroneously, you can keep it. In the ads, it was always something the recipient didn’t need, such as a Eskimos getting a fan or air conditioner.

Does anyone remember these? Does anyone know where these ads can be found now?

You are not allowed to keep stuff delivered to you accidentally. You are allowed to keep stuff delivered to you intentionally and you don’t have to pay for it if you didn’t ask for it. In decades past there was a scam where companies would sent stuff to people and then demand payment and try to intimidate the ignorant ones. Any ads like that would be warning people about the scam.

I do remember this old PSA, I clearly remember the Eskimo getting the fan. But I don’t know where you can see it again. I can find lots of old PSAs, but not that particular one.

There are a lot of sources online saying this, but the only actual evidence I’ve seen for this position is a Federal law that does not seem to apply to accidental delivery. I mean, if your neighbor were to commission a work from me, and I left it on your doorstep, would you be obliged to return it? In general, if someone leaves something on your property, do you have an obligation to see that it gets to its rightful/previous owner?

And the ad was not about companies sending stuff to you and asking you to pay for it; it was specifically about USPS accidentally delivering stuff to you that you didn’t order. At least that’s my recollection.

I did a quick search and found the article below. It’s a British source but the incident was in Massachusetts.

Ah, but the postal service has all kinds of weird privileges. Your mailbox may not actually belong to you, so the postal service may still have a claim on what’s inside of it and have a say on who’s allowed to collect it.

You can be arrested for anything an ignorant policeman thinks might be illegal. The question is, was he convicted? I don’t see how he could have been. Again, if I drop someone else’s property on your lawn, are you obliged to return it to me when I ask?

That’s a good point, but again, a straightforward reading of the relevant statue does not indicate that this would be illegal. It’s only about intercepting someone’s mail for some nefarious purpose.

There are two different things at work here:

A parcel addressed to you that you did not order: That is a free gift, you are under no obligation- you may keep, toss or even pay for as you see fit.

A parcel addressed to someone else mis-delivered to you: You have no right to keep that, you are also not supposed to just throw it out either. Of course, if you can’t find out which carrier delivered it, and who it really belongs to, that causes a dilemma. A midnite drop into a mailbox gets you out of that dilemma, but is by no means a perfect solution- since there is none.

This is exactly the conversation I didn’t want to get into, because this is where I knew it would go. This is why I asked a very specific question.

But if we’re going to do this, provide proof of your position.

Your very argument shows the incoherence of arguing that this is illegal; if there’s no “perfect” (definitively legal) behavior, there cannot be illegal behavior.

Funny, that’s what I was going to ask you to do.

I can’t find any info on conviction. It’s not an open-and-shut case, apparently, but mostly because he appears to have lied to the police.

This Boston Globe article (paywalled) is much more readable than that first link.

The delivery company and police claim that Mr. Memmo wasn’t very forthcoming when asked about the TV, and especially that he didn’t remember signing the receipt for it and didn’t acknowledge the signature on the receipt as his own.

Some lawyer (not involved with the case) claims he was supposed to agree to give the TV back when the delivery company asked for it, another lawyer claims the opposite. Note that this is a commercial delivery company, not the USPS.

Actions (or, in this case, inactions!!) are presumed to be legal unless there’s a law against them.

Nulla poena sine lege

Better known as the “ain’t no rule says a dog can’t play basketball” defense.

In the other thread, things got murky as it seems the package was NOT USPS, but as this OP states we are talking USPS:

Is It Illegal to Open or Shred a Previous Tenant’s Mail?

Yes. It is a federal crime to open or destroy mail that is not intended for you. The law provides that you can not “destroy, hide, open, or embezzle” mail that is not addressed to you.

If you intentionally open or destroy someone else’s mail, you are committing obstruction of correspondence, which is a felony. If you are found guilty of obstruction of correspondence, you could potentially face five years in prison and/or fines

Now those laws apply to USPS mail. Other carriers- not so much.

Did you know that there is a federal law that states that it is illegal to open mail that is not addressed to you?

Is it illegal to open another person’s mail, even if it’s mistakenly delivered to your address or mailbox?

The answer is generally yes, if you recognize that the letter is not intended for you . If you’re caught opening someone else’s mail, the federal criminal consequences could be dire.

Yeah, so this is precisely the law that I don’t think can apply here.

(edited for brevity and clarity)

Whoever takes any package out of any authorized depository for mail matter before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed…

So this doesn’t sound like it can possibly apply to misdelivered mail. “Before it has been delivered” has to mean that it would have been delivered if you hadn’t taken it. Which of course is not the case. This statute is about intercepting mail, not opening mail that has been mistakenly delivered to you.

I certainly see that various people have concluded otherwise, but unless a court has ruled otherwise, I don’t see how this can mean what everyone says it means. (Although I’d accept an official government/USPS document saying this as evidence here.)

Which is why I want to find this ad, as, unless I’m grossly misremembering, it’s proof that the USPS did not believe that this statute applied to misdelivered mail.

This case appears to be directly on point. The defendent was convicted of mail theft for keeping a credit card statement that was misdelivered to him. In this specific case, the post office failed to forward the mail of the prior tenant, so it was actually the defendant’s address, but not the defendant’s name, on the mail. He was still convicted of mail theft for keeping the mail, and the conviction was upheld on appeal. The appeals court specifically and explicitly rejected the argument that the defendant hadn’t stolen the mail because it was in his mail box. The appeals court also ruled that under 18 U.S. Code § 1708,

Once it is clear to the unintended recipient that the letter has been misdelivered or misaddressed, he knows that he has no business opening the mail and then possessing it. The proper course of action in either event is to return the wayward mail to the Postal Service.

What a weird case. I at first assumed it was someone keeping the mail of an ex-SO. It was a random person who moved it after a previous tenant vacated. For some reason the new guy kept the other person’s mail.

EDIT: The guy used the mail to opportunistically commit credit card fraud. They just tacked on the extra charge.

OP: Need answer fast?