How to Find a Lost USPS Letter or Package

Apr 11 2016

The U.S. Postal Service handles over 160 billion mail pieces every year, with over 6,400 items processed each second. The vast majority of those mail pieces arrive without incident. However, mailing and shipping labels can come off in transit and if a package does not have a properly placed return address, your letter or package can become undeliverable.


Actions to Take if your USPS Letter or Package is Lost: 

If your package has gone missing, there is a good chance that it may be at one of the USPS’ two Mail Recovery Centers in Atlanta, GA and St. Paul, MN. These offices hold all mail that cannot be delivered to the addressee or returned to the sender, usually because the address is either illegible or missing.


USPS Mail Recovery Center – How it Works

At the Mail Recovery Center, envelopes and parcels are scanned to see if there is anything of value within the package. If valuable items are present inside the package, it is then opened to determine if there are any clues to the delivery address. Personal correspondence or other envelopes valued below $25 are immediately shredded without opening in most cases. As for parcels or envelopes holding items worth more than $25, and if there is no way to forward the parcel on or return it, the USPS will hold it for three or six months depending on the mail class or special services used.


Items held for 3 months:

  • Priority Mail packages with Delivery Confirmation
  • Priority Mail packages without Delivery Confirmation
  • Certified Mail letters and packages
  • Unnumbered packages with insurance
  • Ordinary Mail of Value

Items held for 6 months:

  • Registered Mail Packages
  • Express Mail Packages
  • Insured Packages (may be held up to 1 year)

Once this time period has elapsed and if the owner has not claimed the contents, the USPS will auction off the products. Get more info on 2012 USPS Mail Recovery Center auctions.


Step One: Submit a USPS Mail Recovery Center Search Request

The first step in finding a lost package is to go to your local Post Office. Let them know that you have a package missing, and ask them to start a Mail Recovery Center Search Request. To start a Search Request, your package must be worth at least $25 – below that and the items are probably already gone. You’ll need to provide both the delivery and return addresses from the package, and, if you are able, phone numbers for both the sender and recipient.

Also, you will need to provide as detailed a description of the package and its contents as you can, to help in identification. If you have photographs of the package or the product inside the package, that will be a major help.

Be patient, as this process will take a considerable amount of time. The USPS will be making a painstaking search of their Mail Recovery warehouses to find your package. Therefore it’s best to start as soon as you realize the package is missing, as you only have a short window of opportunity.


Delivery Confirmation Included on Package?

If you used special tracking services (such as Delivery Confirmation or Signature Confirmation, or any service that provides a tracking number), there is another avenue – the package will have been scanned periodically through the mailing process. If this is the case, you can trace the package’s route online at or by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS, and then calling the mail center where the package was last documented at. Make sure you have a detailed description of the package, and have your tracking number handy as well.

The best way to avoid a lost package is to not allow the package to be lost in the first place. In the vast majority of cases, the package is lost because the address information on the shipping label becomes lost or illegible. Two major culprits are labels that come off the package during the shipping process or address inks that are not water soluble and have smeared.

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