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Mail Bombs

Poster 84 - Suspicious Mail or PackagesIt is important to be alert for suspicious parcels, but keep in mind that a mail bomb is an extremely rare occurrence. To illustrate just how rare, Postal Inspectors have investigated an average of 16 mail bombs over the last few years. By contrast, each year, the Postal Service processed over 170 billion pieces of mail. That means during the last few years, the chances that a piece of mail actually contains a bomb average far less than one in 10 billion!

Still, those who are familiar with the characteristics of suspect parcels can help to avert a tragedy. This actually occurred in a 1991 incident, when a Dumfries, VA, letter carrier identified a suspect parcel in a collection box. The parcel contained a bomb intended for the sender's estranged husband. By acting quickly, the carrier may have saved the man's life. Although the appearance of mail bombs may vary greatly, here are some characteristics that have repeatedly shown up:

  • Mail bombs may have excessive postage. Normally a bomber does not want to mail a parcel over the counter and have to deal face-to-face with a window clerk.
  • The return address may be fictitious or non-existent.
  • The postmark may show a different location than the return address.
  • Mail bombs may bear restricted endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Private." This is particularly important when the addressee does not usually receive personal mail at the office.
  • Mail bombs may display distorted handwriting, or the name and address may be prepared with homemade labels or cut-and-paste lettering.
  • Parcel bombs may be unprofessionally wrapped with several combinations of tape used to secure the package, and may be endorsed "Fragile--Handle With Care" or "Rush--Do Not Delay."
  • Letter bombs may feel rigid, or appear uneven or lopsided.
  • Package bombs may have an irregular shape, soft spots or bulges.
  • Mail bombs may have protruding wires, aluminum foil, or oil stains, and may emit a peculiar odor.
While the overwhelming volume of mail does not permit the Postal Service to screen every piece, Postal Inspectors are able to respond quickly if a suspect article is discovered. Each Inspection Service field division has trained and equipped bomb specialists available to provide professional assistance. If you become suspicious of a mailing and are unable to verify the contents, observe the following safety precautions:

Poster 84, Suspicious Mail, tells employees what to do if they find a suspicious package:
  • Don't open the article.
  • Isolate the suspect parcel and evacuate the immediate area.
  • Don't put it in water or a confined space, such as a desk drawer or cabinet.
  • If possible, open windows in the immediate area to assist in venting potentially explosive gases.
  • Don't worry about possible embarrassment if the item turns out to be innocent. Instead, contact the Postal Inspection Service and your local police department.

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