What Happens to Undeliverable Mail With No Return Address?

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The United States Postal Service has a time-tested system in place for making sure the parcels they're entrusted with end up at their destination. This system runs into hiccups when mail is deemed undeliverable—either because the intended recipient moved away, there was insufficient postage, or other reasons. Most of the time, these items are returned to the address written in the top-left corner of the package or envelope—but what do postal workers do if the return address is missing?

If you've ever lost one of these so-called "dead letters" in the mail, it's not as lost as you might think. According to Reader's Digest, parcels that can't be sent to their intended destination or returned to their original sender all end up in the same place: the Mail Recovery Center (formerly known as the Dead Letter Office) in Atlanta, Georgia. There, USPS employees determine what mail is worth salvaging and what gets disposed of.

Letters sent to the Mail Recovery Center are almost always recycled or destroyed. The USPS only holds onto mail they estimate to be worth a certain amount of money—at least $25, to be exact. After recovering an item of value, they give the owner a window of time to claim it before selling it at auction. Of the 88 million undeliverable parcels the Mail Recover Center received in 2014, only 3 percent were returned to customers, according to a report from 2016.

If you're still waiting for a valuable delivery through the mail, or if a gift you sent never reached its recipient, you can try filing a search request for it using the USPS's Missing Mail application. You can also submit a request in person at your local post office, or call your consumer affairs representative at 1-800-275-8777 to have one submitted for you. Just keep in mind that whatever you're looking for may not be there if you wait too long to claim it.

The USPS has many tricks for dealing with problematic mail, including an entire facility dedicated to deciphering bad handwriting. Here are more facts about the Postal Service you should know.

[h/t Reader's Digest]