8 Telltale Signs of a Suspicious Package

Here are the biggest clues that you could be dealing with a suspicious package—and what to do if you find one.

Package delivery on doorstep. Boxes and postal delivery on modern brick home doorstep on front with 3 cardboard boxesRoschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

Pipe bombs sent through the mail can be scary—and dangerous. But if the recent news about mail bombs has kept you on your toes, you can breathe easy. “Letter bombs and package bombs are extremely rare, which is why they are so newsworthy when they do occur,” says Steven J.J. Weisman, professor of white-collar crime at Bentley University.

In fact, USPS processes more than 170 billion pieces of mail every year, and only a small portion of those (less than one in 10 billion!) are investigated as mail bombs, according to the US Postal Inspection Service. Here are 23 more things your postal carrier isn’t telling you.

Still, it can never hurt to be prepared, especially when it comes to you and your family’s safety. “Do not worry about embarrassment if the letter ends up being innocuous,” Weisman says. “It is much better to be safe than sorry.” Here are some of the biggest clues that you could be dealing with a suspicious package or letter—and what to do if you find one, according to experts.

Telltale signs of a suspicious package:

Concerned that your mail might contain a bomb? There are several red flags to look for, Weisman says:

  • Names and addresses are poorly written or misspelled.
  • The return address is missing, foreign, or unfamiliar.
  • Its postmark is different from the return address.
  • The package is covered with excessive or careless wrapping and tape.
  • One corner of the package has excessive postage.
  • Unusual odors, liquids, movement, or sounds are coming from the package.
  • The package is bulky or unevenly shaped.
  • The package has any other peculiarities, like stains or protruding wires.

What to do if you think a package is suspicious:

If you think you might have a suspicious package on your hands, the Department of Homeland Security recommends taking these steps:

  • Leave the package where you found it, and do not open it.
  • Clear the surrounding area, keeping people at a distance.
  • Try to open a window, if possible. Turn off all other forms of ventilation, as well as any nearby equipment.
  • Wash your hands and other exposed skin with soap and water.
  • Contact the police department and USPS immediately.
  • If you can, write down what the package looks like, the names and addresses on it, and any other unusual markings it has.

Next, read up on these 13 sneaky ways FBI agents keep their homes safe.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a researcher at PBS FRONTLINE in Boston, Massachusetts, and writes regularly about travel, health, and culture news for Reader’s Digest. Previously she was a staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her articles have also appeared on MSN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance, among other sites. She earned a BA in international relations from Hendrix College. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeTNelson.