Mailboxes can become easy targets for tampering and vandalism. Isolated mailboxes, like those in remote areas, are subject to higher risk. Once a mailbox is put into use, it is considered federal property. As such, federal law states that it is a crime to tamper or vandalize a mailbox or its contents. Anyone found guilty of such crimes can be fined and incarcerated.
Your Mailbox as Federal Property
Federal property is any property owned, leased, or otherwise managed by the federal government. When a mailbox is put into use for the purposes of sending and receiving mail, it becomes federal property. The government agency responsible for managing mailbox property is the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The USPS delivers mail to residences and businesses.
Mailbox tampering is considered any act that interferes with another person's letter box or other receptacle. This can include: destruction of the mailbox itself, theft of mailbox contents, the placement of items in a mail receptacle by persons other than postal employees, or any action intended to obstruct or damage mail or mailbox property. In short, anyone other than mail recipients and postal employees should not touch a mailbox or its contents.
Federal Law - Title 18, Section 1705
There are several laws governing mail and mailbox property. Title 18 of the U.S. Code covers crimes and criminal procedure. According to Section 1705 of Title 18, "Whoever willfully or maliciously injures, tears down or destroys any letter box or other receptacle intended or used for the receipt or delivery of mail on any mail route, or breaks open the same or willfully or maliciously injures, defaces or destroys any mail deposited therein, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both." This means that violators can serve a prison sentence up to three years for each act of vandalism. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service notes that a fine of $250,000 can be levied.
Federal Law - Title 18, Section 1708
Section 1708 of Title 18 describes the penalties for possessing stolen postal property such as mail. This section imposes a greater jail sentence on violators. From the U.S. Code: "Whoever buys, receives, or conceals, or unlawfully has in his possession, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein, which has been so stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted, as herein described, knowing the same to have been stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted...Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."
Mailbox Tampering Remedies
Victims of mailbox tampering can take steps to combat the problem. Report tampering or destruction of mail or mailbox property to your local postmaster or postal inspector. They may request that you fill out two forms. One is Postal Service (PS) Form 1510, which is a Mail Loss and Rifling Report. The other form is PS Form 2016 for Mail Theft and Vandalism. You can also obtain Label 33 from the Postal Inspection Service. This is a sticker that is attached to your mailbox. It warns that destruction or damage to mail or mailbox property is a federal crime. You can reduce theft of the mailbox itself by making sure it is secure and properly installed. Before considering the installation of any mailbox lock, check with your local postmaster to see if a lock is allowed.