Already I know this is a bad idea.

Someone keeps stealing my friends packages that were left on their doorstep. They had the bright idea of rigging a smoke bomb or itching powder bomb or something nasty that would be triggered when the package was opened and leaving it on their doorstep to get back at the thief.

Not sure if they are going to do this, but I'd want to have solid legal advise I can give them to prevent them from doing this.

Yes opening someone else's mail is a federal crime, but what if the person is injured by this "bomb"- even if only mildly. How would that play out if they tried to press charges? They'd have to admit to a federal crime OR maybe they lie and say they were confused (haha not sure how plausible that argument would be in court though).

Essentially I want a realistic worst case legal scenario.

  • 2
    The "realistic worst case scenario" is that they've successfully annoyed a criminal who knows where they live.
    – Roger
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 17:42

1 Answer 1


"Revenge" is not a legal concept. If you injure someone other than in self defence or for another legal reason than you are committing assault. Hence dangerous booby traps for trespassers are illegal, so anything that might cause injury, however minor, is definitely out. That includes itching powder.

However I would make an analogy with anti-climb paint. This allows you to use a paint that damages clothing provided you put up warning signs. So if you were to leave a parcel coated with anti-climb paint or containing a bag of paint or glitter rigged to spill it over the person opening it then that would be legal as long as there was a warning that tampering may cause property damage.

(Note "spill", not "squirt" or "splash": anything ejecting paint or glitter under pressure might get it in someone's eyes, causing injury).

So your friend could put a notice up saying that unauthorised tampering with parcels could cause damage to property and then put out parcels that might do exactly that.

Your friend could also put a GPS tracker in a parcel to try to find out where they are going.


Here is someone who did this. The BBC story does not mention any legal issues for him.

A former Nasa [sic] engineer spent six months building a glitter bomb trap to trick thieves after some parcels were stolen from his doorstep.

The device, hidden in an Apple Homepod box, used four smartphones, a circuit board and 1lb (453g) of glitter.

Mark Rober, who is now a Youtuber, caught the original thieves on his home security camera.


The former Nasa engineer said: "If anyone was going to make a revenge bait package and over-engineer the crap out of it, it was going to be me."

  • 3
    GPS tracker is definitely the way to go imo, you can accumulate the evidence against the person, and get your "revenge" by calling it "justice". A CCTV camera is another viable option, a webcam in a window would do. If it were visible it would also act as a deterrent.
    – Dan Rayson
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 13:41
  • possibly another wrinkle- "front door" is actually the front door of their apartment. If its another person that lives in the apartment building would gps be precise enough to find the apartment of the person that took it? but outside scope of my question it think
    – red888
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 17:25
  • 1
    @red888 In which case try a cheap second hand cellphone with a remote control app installed. Then you can get pictures of the thieves. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 17:33
  • 1
    The glitter (or "fart bombs") going off in a car (as in the Update) could predictably result in the driver losing control, causing damage or injury to third parties. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 5:59

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