Is It Illegal To Open Someone Else’s Mail?
Any act that falls under mail tampering or mail fraud (which includes opening someone else’s mail) is considered a felony. In Australia, only Australia Post staff are allowed to legally dispose of another person’s mail. Even if the mail was delivered to the correct address, it is illegal to open or throw any piece of mail that isn’t addressed specifically to you.
The Laws On Opening Someone Else’s Mail In Australia
The 1989 Telecommunications and Postal Services Act expressly forbids any act of mail tampering and classifies it as a Commonwealth offence. This is because someone’s mail could contain sensitive private information, such as their bank statements, credit card information, medical records, or even their social security number.
Mail tampering includes interfering with mail delivery, stealing other people’s mail or otherwise obtaining it through deceptive means, tampering or interfering with mail receptacles (letterboxes, mail bags, post boxes, etc.), and opening someone else’s mail without their consent.
Not following these laws can result in some very severe punishments. While most people only have to pay a fine, there have been cases where people have gone to jail for mail tampering.
What If You Open Someone Else’s Mail Accidentally?
Accidents happen. Perhaps you ripped open the envelope before checking who it is addressed to. Or perhaps the addressee’s name wasn’t on the envelope at all. The law only punishes intentional mail tampering, so if you opened someone else’s mail without meaning to, you’re in the clear. But you will need to take the necessary steps to ‘rectify’ your actions; otherwise, charges can still be brought against you – we discuss what these actions are below.
Do Laws Differ From State To State?
Mail tampering is a Commonwealth offence, which is another term for ‘federal crime’ or ‘felony’. This means that no matter where you are in Australia, mail tampering is a crime.
What Are The Penalties For Opening Someone Else’s Mail?
The minimum sentence for mail fraud/tampering is two years imprisonment, but more severe cases (for example, with obvious malicious intentions or extensive/repeated tampering) can earn you up to five years in jail. If you are facing mail tampering charges, you should approach a lawyer ASAP to discuss your options.
Who Enforces The Postal Laws?
The Australian Federal Police handles all federal crimes. Not all mail tampering cases make it to the district courts, however; most get settled in the local courts first. You can also report mail tampering to your local police, and they will give you the resources you need to pursue your case.
How Do Australia’s Laws Differ From Other Countries?
Other countries have similar mail tampering laws. The Postal Services Act in the UK punishes similar offences, which can merit up to a two-year jail sentence. In the United States, mail tampering is also a federal crime with hefty punishments – each ‘act’ can earn you up to three years in jail and/or a fine of up to $USD 250,000 ($AUD 364,000).
How To Deal With Someone Else’s Mail
There are a few different ways to handle mail that isn’t addressed to you. Instead of opening it or throwing it away, here’s what you need to do to avoid legal trouble:
Wrong address, wrong recipient: Leave the mail in your letterbox, or drop it off in any nearby post box/office.
Right address, wrong recipient: Write ‘return to sender - recipient unknown at this address’ on the mail, and then put it back into your letterbox/any nearby post box.
Accidentally opened mail that isn’t yours: Bring the accidentally-opened mail to the police station. If you report your mistake, charges will not be brought against you.
Handle Other People’s Mail The Right Way
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to deal with someone else’s mail in your letterbox. But people forget to update their addresses and mail gets misdelivered all the time. So the next time you get mail that isn’t yours, just refer to this guide and you won’t have to worry.