In the USA, what laws would apply to a stranger or neighbor who opens my mailbox and looks through my incoming mail, replaces it, and closes my mailbox? He does not take or add anything.

  • Does this answer your question? Can your neighbor search your mailbox?
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 15 at 0:40
  • @trish, those answers were for taking the mail
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Feb 15 at 5:33
  • The answer under law.stackexchange.com/questions/99545/… for Germany already contains this case. What is the etiquette for this here? Reposting? Duplication? Just ignoring this one?
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 15 at 6:06
  • @nvoigt the title of that is for searching but the text includes taking the items.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Feb 15 at 15:12
  • 1
    @TigerGuy I have just copied the part of my answer that applies.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 16 at 6:39

2 Answers 2


This could possibly be prosecuted under s85U of the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914:

A person shall not intentionally obstruct or hinder the carriage by post of any article.

There would likely be some argument about whether removing and replacing the articles was "obstruct[ing] or hinder[ing]", and that may turn on the intention of the person doing so.

If the person accidentally opened the wrong mailbox, read the envelopes, realised their mistake, and replaced it, that would not be a crime. If they did it for some other, perhaps nefarious, purpose, that might be - a potential identity thief can get a lot of useful information just from the outside of an envelope. You don't have to determine intention by having the defendant state their reasons; for a person doing it once, a jury might infer innocence; if they do it repeatedly, that same jury might infer guilt.

However, rather than trying to involve the law, just buy a lock for your mailbox.

  • 2
    "just buy a lock for your mailbox." Is that even legal? I don't think it would be in the US, at least not with the mailboxes that houses usually have.
    – Laurel
    Commented Feb 15 at 14:54
  • @Laurel I have seen plenty of installed mailboxes with locks, it sure is legal, why would it not be?
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 15 at 16:23
  • @nvoigt how would the mail carrier deliver mail to a typical "single-family home mailbox" if it were locked? The OP would have to buy & install an entirely new mailbox of a different design, capable of having mail deposited while locked.
    – brhans
    Commented Feb 15 at 17:13
  • 1
    @brhans I cannot open that link. The techonological marvel of a steel mail box, with a slit to deposit mail and a lockable door to retrieve it costs 18.95 on Amazon, next day delivery. 39.95 if you want it personalized, with your name and house number engraved. That doesn't seem too much of a hassle for a family home. And certainly not illegal.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 15 at 18:49

Technically, my answer is a direct copy from Can your neighbor search your mailbox?, because it concerns the same laws and regulations. However, the question is different and may have different answers in other juristictions, so the question seems not to be a duplicate

If the mail is never actually taken, it's not theft.

However, mail is protected against access from third parties:

§ 202 StGB:

  1. Wer unbefugt
  • einen verschlossenen Brief oder ein anderes verschlossenes Schriftstück, die nicht zu seiner Kenntnis bestimmt sind, öffnet oder
  • sich vom Inhalt eines solchen Schriftstücks ohne Öffnung des Verschlusses unter Anwendung technischer Mittel Kenntnis verschafft, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu einem Jahr oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft, wenn die Tat nicht in § 206 mit Strafe bedroht ist.
  1. Ebenso wird bestraft, wer sich unbefugt vom Inhalt eines Schriftstücks, das nicht zu seiner Kenntnis bestimmt und durch ein verschlossenes Behältnis gegen Kenntnisnahme besonders gesichert ist, Kenntnis verschafft, nachdem er dazu das Behältnis geöffnet hat.
  2. Einem Schriftstück im Sinne der Absätze 1 und 2 steht eine Abbildung gleich.


  1. whoever without authorization
  • opens a sealed letter or other sealed document that is not intended for his knowledge, or
  • obtains knowledge of the contents of such a document by technical means without opening the seal, shall be liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding one year or to a monetary penalty if the offense is not punishable under section 206.
  1. Any person who, without authorization, obtains knowledge of the contents of a document which is not intended for his knowledge and which is specially secured against disclosure by a sealed container, after having opened the container for this purpose, shall also be punished.
  2. an image shall be deemed equivalent to a document within the meaning of paragraphs 1 and 2.

I am not going to quote the whole §206 mentioned here. To summarize it: §202 does not apply to actual postal workers, they are punished even harder for doing this in §206.

That said, in Germany every single mailbox is a locked, opaque container. If you happen to buy a non-standard mailbox for your home that consists of wire-mesh or perfectly clear glass, or you tell the mailman to just throw your mail on the front porch, so people can read the outside of your mail or postcards with their own eyes simply by being in public, then above law does not apply.

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