Is This Really a Crime? Be Careful When Handling Other People’s Mail!

There are of course many cultures which exist across the world, and each has their own set of laws which reflect the thought processes and values of said culture. Even if something is not deemed to be a crime in many countries, it may very well be considered to be one in the country you are in now. It is good to be aware of which offenses are deemed to be misdemeanors or felonies.

For example, consider the relatively common situation of a delivery person accidentally leaving a neighbor’s mail or package in your mailbox. Even if done with genuine good intentions, you are NOT allowed to go ahead and open the misdelivered mail, look at the contents, then hand it directly over to your neighbor yourself. It is also against the law to hold onto or to abandon mail that has been misdelivered. The most frightening thing to consider are cases deemed to be “Embezzlement of Lost Property” (Ishitsu Butsu Tō Ōryō/遺失物等横領). Do be aware that in these types of cases, penalties include not only fines but sometimes also arrest.

Article 42 of The Postal Act (Handling of Misdelivered Mail) states that:
Any person who receives misdelivered mail must indicate that the letter or package has been delivered incorrectly by writing directly onto the envelop/package before then putting it either into a public mail box or notifying the delivery company. ② In the case that misdelivered mail is opened by the wrong party, the person who mistakenly opened it must fix the opened article(s) and write his or her name and address on it.

Article 254 of the Criminal Code (Embezzlement of Lost Property) states that:
A person who embezzles lost property, drift property, or any other property which belongs to another person and is in no one’s possession shall be punished by imprisonment with work for no more than 1 year, a fine of up to 100,000 yen, or a petty fine.

The Embezzlement of Lost Property doesn’t apply to only mail. The crime-constituting elements of the Embezzlement of Lost Property is defined as “the embezzlement of lost property, drift property, or other property belonging to another person that has left one’s possession;” this basically refers to someone taking lost or forgotten property and then making it one’s own without the original owner’s permission. While embezzlement means “to unlawfully make someone else’s things yours,” misappropriation of lost property also presupposes the intent to intentionally take for oneself an unjust enrichment.  

Do not lightheartedly believe that “it’s okay” to open another person’s misdelivered mail, or to neglect or leave it alone, and definitely do not check out the contents or to deliver it yourself!