How Bad Is Stealing Mail?

consequences for stealing mail

Even in today’s digital world, there is still a high demand for physical shipping. After all, how else would people be able to get something that they ordered online? This means that mail is still a pretty big deal, even if it may not seem like.

Something that at first seems like no big deal, but actually becomes pretty bad when looking deeper, is stealing someone else’s mail. At first, people might think it’s no big deal, since most of the mail they get is junk mail. However, that is not the case. A lot of important things are sent in envelopes from one person to another, which is why it is illegal to steal and/or open someone else’s mail.

What Gets Shipped?

A better question would be what doesn’t get shipped in today’s world? In the age of the internet and online retailers such as Amazon, people can buy just about whatever they want online. This means that whatever they purchased needs to be shipped as well. This leads to just about anything you can imagine being shipped by mail.

However, mail goes beyond material possessions. Think about all of the birthday and holiday cards that get shipped. Many of those often contain money or gift cards in them.

Another important thing that is shipped in the mail is people’s identities. Sensitive papers that can contain important information about a person, such as medical, legal, or financial documents. These bits of paper can contain social security numbers, and other private bits of information.

All of this is stuff that a person doesn’t want falling into the wrong hands, which is why it is a crime to steal someone’s mail at both the state and federal level.

What Is Considered Mail Theft?

Due to what can be found in mail, stealing it is a very serious offense. Add on to that the fact that the USPS is a federal agency, and the consequences become even more severe. Here in the state of California, the crime and its consequences are considered to be more closely related to identity theft than to actual theft. This isn’t to say that stealing a package from amazon is not as bad as stealing a letter from a bank. Both crimes will land a person in very serious trouble.

Stealing mail is defined as taking someone else’s mail from a mailbox, mail receptacle, post office, or mail carrier. It is also illegal to obtain mail by lying to or deceiving someone. Opening someone else’s mail and taking its contents without the addressed person’s consent is also illegal. Destroying stolen mail in an attempt to hide is illegal as well. Lastly, buying or receiving mail that a person knows to be stolen is illegal.

Basically, if a person’s name is not on the address, than they shouldn’t be taking or opening the mail without permission from the person who the letter or package is addressed to.

Penalties for Stealing Mail

Stealing someone else’s mail is a crime under California Penal Code 530.5 and 18 United States Code 1708.

Here in California, the theft of mail is considered a misdemeanor offense. This means that it can earn a person:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail.
  • A fine no larger than $1,000.
  • Some combination of the above fine and jail time.

At the federal level, the consequences of stealing someone else’s mail are much more severe. If a person is charged with federal mail theft, they could face:

  • Up to 5 years in federal prison.
  • Fines up to $250,000.
  • Some combination of the above fine and prison time.

This is all just for the offense of stealing the mail. A person can also potentially be charged with breaking and entering or even identity theft. Both of these charges would have their penalties added onto those of the mail theft.

Stealing Mail Is a Big Deal

All in all, stealing mail is not a crime that is taken lightly. It may seem like stealing mail is no big deal, but that is not the case. If a person is caught stealing mail from anywhere, they will face criminal charges. Here in California, that means at both the state and federal level. This means that those penalties can add up quick. Basically, a person should never take someone else’s mail or packages. It is stealing, and will land a person behind bars.

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