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    Stealing mail is a criminal offence in Australia. There are significant penalties including gaol sentences and fines.

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      is stealing mail illegal

      Is Stealing Mail Illegal in Australia?

      Stealing mail is a criminal offence in Australia. There are significant penalties including gaol sentences and fines.

      Mail theft in Australia is a serious offence. This is because it is often a precursor to fraud and identity theft.

      If you are charged with stealing mail, you should speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.

      What is the Offence of Stealing Mail?

      Stealing mail is taking letters, mailbags, delivery vehicles or causing mail to be delivered to the wrong address.

      You can also be charged with similar offences such as tampering with mail, sending fraudulent letters by post, using a forged postal stamp and assaulting or committing an offence against an Australian postal worker.

      These are all Commonwealth offences which are dealt with in a very specific way.  You should ensure your criminal defence lawyer is experienced with Commonwealth offences and defences in criminal law.

      The Telecommunications and Postal Services Act 1989 sets out a number of activities that fall under this definition:

      • Forging postage stamps or knowingly using postage stamps which have been forged.
      • Stealing mail bags from Australia Post employees.
      • Stealing mail from Australia Post.
      • Tampering or interfering with mailbags.
      • Tampering or interfering with letters or other articles that are being delivered by Australia Post.
      • Obtaining a delivery item by deception.
      • Helping someone else obtain a letter or other delivery item by deception.
      • Using the postal service to harass or threaten someone else.
      • Interfering with a post box or stamp vending machine.

      This applies to any mail carrier or delivery service in Australia.

      Defences to Stealing Mail in Australia

      The defences to stealing mail are:

      • Honest and reasonable mistake: the mail was obtained by accident, or a genuine mistake;
      • Duress: you were forced to steal mail;
      • Necessity: your actions were necessary in the circumstances.

      Penalties for Stealing Mail

      The maximum penalty for stealing mail in Australia is five years’ imprisonment.

      There are a number of different factors that will determine the severity of your penalty if you are found guilty. An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to prepare and present your case in a way that will obtain the best possible outcome.

      Some of these factors include:

      • The total value of the items that were stolen. This includes sentimental value as well as the pecuniary value;
      • The degree of planning and sophistication. An amateurish offence will be less serious than a sophisticated enterprise where mail is stolen in an organised manner.
      • How much mail was stolen? A single offence of mail theft will be less serious than a long-term organised system of mail fraud.
      • The reason for the offending. If mail is taken for no particular purpose, this will be seen as less serious than if it is part of an operation to obtain identification information.
      • If you received the mail by mistake, what (if any) attempts were made to return it.

      The Offence of Tampering with Mail

      Tampering with mail is interfering with mail receptacles, stealing mail prior to delivery and opening mail you are not authorised to open.

      This is a very serious offence which may result in imprisonment.

      If you have been charged with tampering with mail or a related offence, you should contact a specialist criminal lawyer who can immediately advise you of your options.

      What is the Penalty for Tampering with Mail?

      The maximum penalty for tampering with mail in Australia is five years’ gaol.

      This can be reduced to two years’ imprisonment if the prosecution cannot to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an accused tampered with the mail with dishonest intentions.

      What are the Defences to Tampering with Mail?

      The following defences to tampering with mail can be used:

      • Honest and reasonable mistake: your actions were an honest mistake and reasonable in the circumstances;
      • Duress: you were forced to tamper with mail;
      • Necessity: your actions were necessary in the circumstances.

      You can also negotiate with police or the Commonwealth DPP can result in a reduction in the charge. For example, the offence of using the postal service to harass another person only carries a maximum penalty of one year gaol.

      By contrast, the offence of forging a postage stamp or knowingly using a forged postage stamp has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

      Contacting leading fraud lawyers at Astor Legal on (02) 7804 2823 or by email info@astorlegal.com.au is a good first step in defending these charges.

      You can also read some recent cases where similar charges have been dismissed by clicking here.

      What if I accidentally open someone else’s mail?

      If you accidentally open someone else’s mail, you will not be committing a criminal offence.

      However, if you then keep that mail, it could be considered an offence. Likewise, if you obtain the mail dishonestly, you may be committing and offence.

      If you have been charged with tampering with mail due to an error by Australia Post, it is unlikely the prosecution will be able to prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

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