When sending a package or mail through USPS, it is natural to expect a certain level of privacy.
After all, everyone should be allowed to ship packages worldwide without worrying about someone opening them or potentially damaging the contents.
So, when it comes to safe shipping through USPS, can you expect them to open or inspect your package?
Here is what we learned about the best ways to ship something privately and what to expect:
Here’s Why USPS Opens Packages:
USPS does open packages if necessary. Mail shipped as first-class is not open to random searches without a warrant since this would be unconstitutional. However, this rule does not apply to packages sent through regular USPS shipping.
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Are USPS Allowed to Open Packages?
It is important to remember that USPS is a government-controlled company. So, not all privacy standards will apply when shipping something privately.
USPS retains the right to open any packages – even letters – if they suspect the contents are dangerous or illegal to ship. However, this does not apply to mail sent using the USPS First-Class mail system.
It is also important to note that this is an extra service that you will have to pay for.
So, if you are sending something as a regular shipment, it may be subject to inspection.
Keep in mind that this is only for domestic shipping within the US. If you are using USPS to ship something internationally, it can be open to inspection depending on that certain country’s laws.
More importantly, international inspections are done by customs agents. So, if the inspection fails, you could find yourself vulnerable to much more serious consequences.
How Often Does USPS Open Packages for Inspection?
With some rough math, the USPS only inspects less than 0.0007 packages a year on average.
USPS reserves the right to open and inspect packages shipped through the standard process.
The USPS does not have a certain quota to meet when inspecting packages, but USPS can inspect a package as long as they feel it is necessary.
However, it is important to note that USPS does not open every package for inspection. They have to suspect something isn’t right before opening the package.
This is done through scans and weighing the packages. Depending on how busy that particular post office is, there may even be a K9 inspection.
While it is impossible to calculate just how many packages the USPS inspects, in 2019 alone, they seized over 50,000 packages that were found to have illegal or dangerous substances in them.
Are USPS Packages Screened Automatically?
Most letters and packages sent through USPS will undergo a screening process, but this practice is not automatic for each delivery.
Screening includes sending the parcel through an X-Ray machine to have a better view of the contents. If something doesn’t pass this initial inspection or is marked as a “red flag,” it may be subjected to an open inspection.
Since not every package is scanned, there must be some standard for which packages get scanned.
The first thing they would check for is if there is any damage done to the package caused by a liquid leaking or breaking. This will automatically trigger a scan.
Second, if a package is suspiciously heavy or even light, USPS can subject that particular parcel to a random scan.
However, the number one thing that triggers an inspection is whether or not the package is addressed correctly and if the information on the barcode matches the information on the label.
If the information doesn’t line up quite right, this is a huge tip-off to the USPS to give that package a pass through an X-Ray scan.
Does Customs Open USPS Packages?
While customs does not open every package, they carefully scan them and ensure all of the appropriate forms are in order before allowing it to cross over.
Not every package is scanned through an X-Ray machine when shipping locally or domestically. However, in the case of international shipping, all packages will pass through a series of scans before being able to cross the border.
This includes X-Ray scans as well as sniffing dogs who are tasked with inspecting packages for dangerous substances.
The biggest red flag for custom agents isn’t the use of scanning; instead, it all depends on the information on your shipping document.
You must first fill out a customs form when shipping something internationally. This form will include specific information like the size and weight of the package as well as specific answers to its contents.
Any discrepancy on this very important paperwork is a surefire way to get that package “red-flagged,” meaning that custom agents are within their rights to open and inspect it thoroughly.
Does USPS Really Care what’s Inside the Packages?
USPS has no personal stake in what you are shipping to friends and family.
An important part of their job is to ensure the safety of their workers and the public. The job of the post office is much more than just processing shipments.
Like any organization, the USPS has certain standards that it must meet. Also, since USPS is a government-run organization, they have certain federal standards to adhere to.
More plainly, the post office is absolutely committed to following these standards, which include developing certain systems to ensure these special protections.
It is even included in the USPS employee handbook that these scanning standards must be in place.
So, while it may feel like a violation of privacy and an overreach of the government, the only reason packages are open to inspection is to protect the public.
What Happens if USPS Finds a Suspicious Package?
If a package or letter does not pass initial scanning tests, the first thing that USPS will do is employ their Post Master to attempt to contact the sender through phone calls or letters.
This is often done by sending a “pick-up” notice directly to your home, letting you know that your package could not be delivered and that you should go directly to your local post office to pick up the package.
Depending on what the contents are, further action may need to be taken. More specifically, the post office may choose to call in local police or federal agents, including the DEA.
From there, the agents can choose to press charges, or if there is no immediate danger or illegal activities, it could be as simple as you needing to re-apply for shipping by updating the information on the shipping label.
In more severe cases, like if the post office suspects a package contains something dangerous or nefarious, more serious measures will be taken to ensure safety.
Does USPS Open Lost Mail?
Any mail that has been lost or labeled as “unable to deliver” will get processed through a special USPS processing center for lost mail.
From there, the package or letter will be scanned and then opened.
This is done in an attempt to locate either the proper recipient or the sender themselves. If they locate the sender, the mail will be returned, and from there, you can do with it what you want.
However, if there are unable to locate the sender, the mail will be held in this facility for up to 90 days.
After the time has expired, the post office will discard packages and letters with a value of under $25.
Anything exceeding this amount will be sold, donated, or auctioned off. The profit made from these sales will go back directly to the USPS.
While this may seem like pennies and dimes, the USPS actually makes a good chunk of money on lost items each year. In 2021, the USPS made over $8 million from just auctioned lost items alone.