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Suspicious Mail

Assessment Flowchart for Suspicious Envelopes or Packages (.PDF file)

U.S. Postal Service Suspicious Mail Alert (.PDF file)

When should I be concerned about an envelope or package?

Most know through the media what constitutes a "suspicious envelope." Authorities now cite some of these indicators: letters that are hand-addressed, perhaps with misspellings; with no return address; with a return address that doesn't match the postmark. Other causes for concern are wires protruding from a package or envelope, an oily stain on the outside; an oddly shaped package or one of unusual weight given its size; powder or granules in or on an envelope or package; excessive postage.

What should I do?


  • Common sense and care should be used in inspecting and opening mail or packages.
  • Examine unopened envelopes for foreign bodies or powder.
  • Do not open letters with your hands: use a letter opener.
  • Open letters and packages with a minimum of movement to avoid spilling any contents.

Types of letters that may be suspect:

  • Any letter or package that has suspicious or threatening messages written on it.
  • Letters with oily stains.
  • Envelopes that are lopsided, rigid, bulky, discolored, or have a strange odor.
  • Envelopes with no return address.
  • Unexpected envelopes from foreign countries.
  • No postage, non-cancelled postage, or excessive postage.
  • Hand-written address, perhaps improper spelling of common names, places, or titles.

For suspect envelopes:

  2. LEAVE it and EVACUATE the room.
  3. DO NOT shake, empty, or disturb the contents.
  4. KEEP others from entering.
  5. WASH your hands with soap and water.
  6. NOTIFY your supervisor and Security at x13. From a cell phone or other non-University phone, dial 275-3333.

For packages that are opened and which contain powder:

  1. DO NOT PANIC. Anthrax organisms can cause skin infection, gastrointestinal infection, or pulmonary infection. To do so, the organism must be able to enter the skin through a cut or scrape or be swallowed or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. It does not leap into the body. All forms of disease are generally treatable with antibiotics.
  2. Gently close the suspicious letter or package and place it on the nearest flat surface.
    • Do not shake, empty, or disturb the contents of any suspicious envelope or package.
    • Do not attempt to smell or to closely examine any powder or suspicious substance.
    • Do not carry the letter or package for others to examine.
    • Do not place the letter or package in a plastic bag or other container.
    • Do not attempt to clean up any spilled powder.
    • Do not attempt to cover any spilled powder.
  3. Leave the room immediately and close the doors.
  4. Wash your hands with soap and water if a sink is available. Do not use bleach or disinfectants on your skin.
  5. Notify your supervisor and Security at x13. From a cell phone or other non-University phone, dial 275-3333.
  6. Wait in an adjacent area until responders arrive.
  7. Do not allow others to enter the area.
  8. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or any other part of your body.
  9. If clothing is heavily contaminated, don't brush vigorously.
  10. Obtain modesty garments from Security and remove contaminated clothing and place in a plastic bas as soon as possible. Shower with soap and water.
  11. Make a list all of the people who were in the room or area when the suspicious letter or package was recognized.

Updated 10/19/01 based on NYS Department of Health guidelines.

Last modified: Wednesday, 05-Jun-2013 15:43:39 EDT