Federal law says if you receive an out-of-order package with your name and address on it, it’s considered a free gift.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers an average of 23.8 million packages per day and more than 290,000 pieces of mail per minute.
Most people who come to a home or business expect them, but sometimes some don’t. When someone receives a package they didn’t order, they may be suspicious or just return it to the sender.
VERIFY viewer Tere messaged us asking if you could keep a package you received in the mail if it was sent to you, even if you didn’t order it.
Is it legal to keep packages unclaimed if they have your name and address on them?
Yes, holding packages is not required if they have your name and address on them.
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WHAT WE FIND
If someone receives an unwanted package in the mail and it has already been delivered to them, they can keep it for free, USPS says. An example of when this can happen is when a charity sends you a free return address label or sticker, hoping to encourage you to donate to their cause. But you are under no obligation to do so.
This also applies to free samples. The recipient does not have to do anything to keep what they have received.
This is a rare case where ‘seeker, holder’ is unconditionally applied. “A company sends you a gift in the mail – a tie, a lucky charm or a set of keys. You did not order the gift. What do you do? Many will feel guilty and pay for the gift. But you don’t have to. What you do with the merchandise is entirely up to you.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which enforces consumer protection laws and monitors for fraudulent practices or signs of fraud, agrees.
You have the legal right to keep any unordered or unsolicited item, such as merchandise, as a free gift, FTC said.
Based on Section 3009 in US code, unordered items “may be treated as a gift by the recipient, who shall have the right to retain, use, dispose of or dispose of it in any manner he or she sees fit without have any obligation to the sender.” The law states that merchandise invoices for items that are not in order are not included in the package. You also cannot invoice for products you receive after the fact.
But even if you don’t have to return the package, if the package looks suspicious, you can mark it as “Return to Sender” and USPS will resend it for free.
UPS has notified VERIFY that if someone is concerned about an item that has not been ordered, they can return the item by contacting customer service (1-800-PICK-UPS) and UPS will coordinate the return of the package, or if the item is mistakenly delivered, send it to the appropriate owner.
The spokesperson said this also applies to packages with the recipient’s name and address they don’t remember ordering.
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When should you worry about unclaimed items?
The The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has warned of a scam called toothpicking, in which people receive packages out of order with their name and address on them appearing to be from a reputable seller.
Items may vary, such as a humidifier or Bluetooth speaker. Typically, items received are lightweight and inexpensive to ship, the BBB said.
Items often appear to come from a retailer, such as Amazon, but do not have a return address.
Instead, the companies are often third-party, foreign sellers that are sending items using addresses they find online.
Once the item is delivered, there will be a message in the package for the recipient to write a free product review and direct them to certain review sites. Or, the company writes a fake review using the recipient’s name.
Sometimes the scam is only intended to profit third-party sellers, other times the review site can be used to collect personal information.
The BBB offers these tips if you receive a package you didn’t order but are curious about:
- Notice to retailers. Reputable retailers have established customer service desks that can help you determine if a package is legitimate.
- Try to identify the sender and check if it’s legit.
- Do a search of your name to determine if any reviews were written without your knowledge.
- Check your Amazon or other retailer account for recent orders.
- Change your finance and shopping account passwords. This could be a sign that personal information has been compromised, and to improve account security, keep a close eye on credit reports and credit card bills.