What Options Do I Have Regarding Unwanted / Unsolicited Mail?


Do I Have to Return Unsolicited Merchandise Received in the Mail?

If a company sends you a gift in the mail, but you did not request it, the item is yours, and you are under no obligation to pay anything (regardless of the mail class).

You, the consumer, may only legally be sent two types of merchandise through the mail without your consent or agreement:

  • Free samples which are clearly and conspicuously marked as such.
  • Merchandise mailed by a charitable organization that is soliciting contributions.

And in these two cases, you can consider the merchandise a gift if you wish. In all other situations, it is illegal to send merchandise to someone, unless that person has previously purchased or requested it.

If you do not wish to pay for unsolicited merchandise or make a donation to a charity sending such an item, you may do one of three things (in each case, by law, you have no obligation to the sender):

  • If you have not opened the mailpiece, you may mark it "Return to Sender," and the United States Postal Service will return it with no additional charge to you.
  • If you open the mailpiece and do not like what you find, you may throw it away.
  • If you open the mailpiece and like what you find, you may keep it for free. In this instance, "finders-keepers" applies unconditionally.

Furthermore, it is illegal for a company that sends you unordered merchandise to follow the mailing with a bill or dunning communication.

If you are aware of violations of the federal law prohibiting the mailing of unordered merchandise, or if you have personally had difficulty with such items--especially if you are sent statements insisting on payment for the merchandise--you should contact you local postmaster or the nearest Postal Inspector.

Note: These rules are codified in Title 39, United States Code, Sect. 3009.

How Do I Stop Receipt of Unsolicited "Obscene" Mail?

You may file PS Form 1500 at a local Post Office to prevent receipt of unwanted obscene materials in the mail or to stop receipt of "obscene" materials in the mail. The Post Office offers two programs to help you protect yourself (and your eligible minor children).

  • Option 1: Application for Prohibitory Order (requires the objectionable mailpiece)

Under the Pandering Advertisements Statute, 39 USC 3008, if you are the addressee of an advertisement, and consider the matter (product or service) that it offers for sale to be "erotically arousing or sexually provocative," you can obtain a Prohibitory Order against the mailer. You apply for the order by submitting the entire advertising mailpiece (the original, NOT a photocopy) with a properly completed application. Minor children under 19 years old and residing with you may be included in the application.

o    This Statute provides a deterrent to continued mailings by a specific mailer advertising a product or service you consider erotically arousing or sexually provocative.

o    You are required to save all materials, including the envelope and the entire mailpiece and then attach the entire opened mailpiece to PS Form 1500.

  • Option 2: Application for Listing (does not require a mailpiece)

Under the Sexually Oriented Advertisements Statute, 39 USC 3010, the United States Postal Service maintains a list of persons who have informed us they do not wish to receive sexually oriented advertisements in their mail. When informing the Postal Service, such persons may also have their minor children under 19 years of age, who are residing with them or are under their care, custody, or supervision, included on the list.

o    Provides a deterrent to the mailing of ANY unsolicited sexually oriented advertisements to protected persons.

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