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Suspicious Mail and Packages

How to Recognize Suspicious Mail and Packages

There are several characteristics of suspicious packages and envelopes. These characteristics have been compiled by law enforcement agencies based on actual dangerous packages that have been received. Note that a potentially hazardous package may or may not have one or more of these characteristics, likewise, just because a package has one or more of these characteristics doesn’t necessarily mean it is hazardous.

These are intended only as a guideline of things to be aware of when handling incoming packages and envelopes:

  • Inappropriate or unusual labeling
  • Excessive postage
  • Misspelled common words
  • Incorrect titles or titles without a name
  • No return address or strange return address
  • Unusual addressing, such as not being addressed to a specific person
  • Postmarked from a city or state that does not match the return address
  • Restrictive markings, such as “personal,” “confidential,” or “do not x-ray”
  • Marked with any threatening language


Other indicators include an unusual or inappropriate appearance, including:

  • Powdery substances felt through or appearing on the item
  • Oily stains or discolorations on the exterior
  • Strange odors
  • Excessive packaging material, like tape or string
  • Excessive weight
  • Lopsided or bulky shape of envelopes or boxes
  • Ticking sounds, protruding wires, or exposed aluminum foil
Cardboard box with blank shipping label.

Procedures for Handling Suspicious Mail and Packages

When a mail item appears suspicious, there are several steps you should take in order to ensure your own safety and protect the safety of others.

  • Stay calm.
  • Contact CUPD immediately at 864- 656-2222.
  • Do not open the letter or package (or open any further), do not shake it, do not show it to others, or empty its contents.
  • Leave the letter or package where it is or gently place it on the nearest flat surface.
  • If possible, gently cover the letter or package (use a trash can, article of clothing, etc.).
  • Shut off any fans or equipment in the area that may circulate the material.
  • Alert others nearby to relocate to an area away from the suspicious item.
  • Take essential belongings, like cell phones, keys, purse, etc. with you in case return to your office is delayed.
  • Leave and close the door to the space containing the suspicious letter or package, cover the threshold area under the door with a towel or a coat if possible, and section off the area (keep others away).
  • Wash your hands to prevent spreading any powder or hazardous substance. 

If you have opened a suspicious package:

  • Leave the package where it is.
  • Remove any clothing that has powder or liquid on it and seal it in a plastic bag.
  • Get everyone out of the room and close the door.
  • Wash your hands or shower with soap and water.
  • Call 9-1-1 (or the emergency response number in your area, if applicable)
  • If applicable, alert building security coordinator, resident assistant, or a supervisor.
  • Wait in a safe place until the police or firefighters arrive.