Some companies that send junk mail include a "business reply" envelope. This allows the junk mail recipient to send a "reply" through U.S. mail at the originator's expense.

In fact these business reply envelopes can be filled with heavy junk and given to the U.S. Postal Service in order to impose additional postage costs on the junk mailer (perhaps discouraging them from further junk mailing). If a person did that could he be found liable for damages in a civil action? Or does it run afoul of any criminal statute? Are there any examples of either?

  • How on earth would the recipient know who returned their envelope with a "stone" (or whatever)?? Surely the sender wouldn't write their return address on anything??
    – Scott
    Jun 1, 2016 at 22:06
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    @Scott - The idea is to "give them a taste of their own medicine." If they knew who was doing it they could simply remove that addressee from their lists. Amusingly, at least for a time, some junk mailers tried to make it look like their business reply envelopes were coded so that they could tell who was sending stuff back in them, along with vague threats that "misuse may result in legal action." Made me wonder also what, if anything, they could legally do.
    – feetwet
    Jun 1, 2016 at 22:50
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    I actually have worked with direct mail for over 20 years... so I've seen a lot. The reality is, if the recipient's name is actually part of the reply portion, malicious returns never happen. On blind reply pieces... you'd be disgusted and amazed at what gets returned.
    – Scott
    Jun 1, 2016 at 23:26
  • There is an intelligent mail barcode option (which by the standard should be unique for at least 180 days) for business reply mail so if a mailer invested in the tech, they could possibly trace a BRM to a specific letter they sent (and they might for a "John Wanamaker half the money I spend on advertising...." marketing analysis). I don't believe the USPS would care as long as you don't send explosives, aerosols, weird powders, etc. pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/505.htm#1224365
    – user662852
    Jun 1, 2016 at 23:27

2 Answers 2


Two questions. Since the answer to the second answers the first I will go out of order

If a person did that could he be found liable for damages in a civil action? Or does it run afoul of any criminal statute?

As far as the post office is concerned, per Domestic Mail Manual 505 1.3.1 your heavy boxes shipped Business Reply Mail (BRM) are considered waste. Mailing the box with BRM as a label would not be a crime as long as you did not improperly ship prohibited items, like ammunition, or were trying to commit another crime such as sending a bomb or drugs through the mail, but it would be thrown out or returned to you. See: customer support ruling

If a person did that could he be found liable for damages in a civil action? Or does it run afoul of any criminal statute?

Unless you wasted the post offices time with excessive bulk mailings of junk or any of the reasons given before, not likely.

  • This isn't entirely accurate - reading the first link, the full text shows that only for certain unsealed items is it treated as waste. For sealed items, it is delivered and charged to the permit holder. And the second link is dead.
    – Joe
    May 12, 2020 at 16:09

No, prepaid envelopes are literally prepaid. The company that sent them was charged a flat rate by the post office in most cases. They aren't paying after the mail is sent.

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    Are you sure about this? In the US, at least, businesses who use "Permit Reply Mail", the most common type of "prepaid" reply envelope, "pay postage and a per piece fee for only the pieces returned." There's an annual permit fee on top of this as well, but to say that they aren't paying after the mail is sent is incorrect. Jun 3, 2019 at 12:07
  • "The BRM permit holder guarantees payment of the applicable fees and First-Class Mail or Priority Mail postage plus a per piece charge for pieces returned by the USPS (see payment options below). " Your own link shows it's prepaid. The extra charges are for returns.
    – Putvi
    Jun 3, 2019 at 15:41
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    @Putvi This is incorrect. There is a BRM permit fee that is independent of the number of pieces returned. The mailer then puts down a deposit from which the postage for each returned piece is subtracted plus an additional handling fee. See USPS QSG 507a for examples. You can certainly prepay an envelope by affixing normal postage or a meter, but the whole point of BRM is so you don't pay for unused envelopes.
    – user71659
    Jun 3, 2019 at 16:37
  • @user71659 I'm not arguing about the returned part. I'm saying they can pre pay.
    – Putvi
    Jun 3, 2019 at 16:38
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    @Putvi No your premise is incorrect again. They will charge the recipient the correct FCM postage. That is, if they put more than one ounce of paper in the envelope, the recipient gets charged more. This is important if you have return parcels where the weight and zone varies. You're confusing the fact that you need to deposit money, that's not prepaying postage. Meter mail requires a similar advance deposit of money.
    – user71659
    Jun 3, 2019 at 19:02

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