United States Postal Inspection Service - Banner


Skip Navigation Links

Government Look-Alike Mail

That brown envelope in your mail box looked so official you thought it was from a government agency. Even the name, the return address and seal looked official. Such mailings can be deceptive and confusing, and are sometimes illegal. They typically contain sweepstakes solicitations or requests for donations to political causes.

Official-looking mailings the Postal Inspection Service has seen in the past include one from the "FBI"--actually, Fountains Bureau of Invitations--which turned out to be an invitation to attend a high-pressure sales pitch for a real estate development. To make the mailing look even more authentic, messages such as "Important Notice," Official Business," or "Open Immediately" are often hand-stamped or printed on the envelopes.

The problems caused by these look-alike mailings led to the passage of the Deceptive Mailings Prevention Act of 1990. This law, Title 39, United States Code, Sections 3001(f) and (g), places certain restrictions on these look-alike mailings. Such mailings are no longer allowed, unless:

  • The entity actually has a government connection, approval or endorsement;

  • The mail matter and its outside wrapper bear a notice prescribed by the U.S. Postal Service which disclaims such connection, approval, or endorsement; or

  • The mail matter is contained in a publication purchased or requested by the addressee.

If you are uncertain about a mailing, carefully read the material inside the envelope. If the mailer is not being totally deceptive, it should become clear whether the mailing is a deceptive government look-alike mailing from a private organization not connected with any government agency or program.

If you have received an unsolicited government look-alike mailing from an entity with no governmental connection, approval, or endorsement, and the required disclaimer is not present, please send that mailing with a brief transmittal letter to a Postal Inspector, care of your local postmaster.