While I was going through some old mail, I discovered that I received two returned letters which were addressed to the same individual. I don't know the individual. The two letters were dated about 1 month apart. The return address had my street address on it, but claimed that it was sent from "an agent of" some financial services company X.

I did not open the letters. Based on what I did see, my assumptions are as following:

  • This is a debt collector who does not wish to reveal their true location.
  • The debt collector does not understand the law, or understands it all-too-well, and wants to mask their physical location to protect themselves against a retaliation.
  • The wrong return address was not printed on the letters by mistake. Since the entity sending the letters purports to be a services company, it sends a lot of them. If there was a mistake, it would have been fixed over the period of a full month.

My concern is that whoever is receiving the letters (unlike the ones which were returned to me as "undeliverable"), may be unstable and potentially dangerous.

I called the non-emergency police line and the dispatcher said they could not look up if there was any current investigation into the company mentioned on the return address. I still haven't opened the letters in case there is another law-enforcement entity which may wish to examine them.

Both "send" and "return" addresses are in the state of WA. Should I call the FBI's general line? It is, after all, Federal mail. Or is this perfectly legal and I should just return the letters to the post office?

  • 3
    I think the proper law enforcement agency to report this to (if at all) would not be the FBI, but the Postal Inspection Service. Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 0:55
  • 1
    The bible of mail regulations is the Postal Service's Domestic Mail Manual. There are some notes about return addresses in Section 602.1.5. They list a few situations where a return address is required, but it's not clear whether those apply to you, nor whether that implies a correct return address is needed, nor whether an incorrect return address is actually illegal. Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 1:04
  • 1
    The most likely explanation, if it's not a simple mistake as you say, is that the person sending the letters has no connection to the company they claim to be an agent of and is simply trying to scam people. If not a mistake, then there's good chance the letters contain instructions to pay some debt by Bitcoin or Western Union or some other irreversible and hard to trace payment method. You can simply open one of the letters and see.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 2:04
  • 1
    To be sure this isn't a simple mistake, is the street a major thoroughfare or common name? There may be more than one "100 Main Street" in your zipcode, or a 100 E. Main Street vs 100 W. Main St, etc. How close is the address in form to the business' real location?
    – user662852
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 2:16
  • 1
    @RossRidge: Deliberately opening a letter that is not addressed to you is definitely illegal. I don't think the fact that it bears OP's address as the return address helps: OP knows that neither the original sender nor the original recipient intended the letter to go to OP. Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


It is not illegal to lie per se. But the liar needs to mind the possible consequences: depending on them, lying (e.g. putting wrong return address) may prove illegal.

My concern is that whoever is receiving the letters (unlike the ones which were returned to me as "undeliverable"), may be unstable and potentially dangerous.

Say the potentially dangerous recipient goes to the stated return address and proves that they really are dangerous. In this case the sender would have committed tort of negligence as they owed duty of care to whoever actually was at the return address: the duty was to foresee that the recipient may go there and cause trouble.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .