Bestiary of unimportant envelopes that look important

The Evil Mad Scientist folks have compiled an annotated bestiary of junk-mail envelopes that are camouflaged to look like important correspondence. It's a fascinating study in meatspace spam.

Often times, these envelopes are quite well done. Above is an example that might cause a genuine double take— with its “FINAL NOTICE ENCLOSED“ — and bank-PIN style tear tabs on the sides...

And then, there’s the fine print, so that you really take it seriously. A $2,000 fine or 5 years imprisonment(!) are threatened under §1702 should you fail to deliver this fine specimen of junk mail letter to its intended victim. (This penalty is true but somewhat misleading; the law refers to obstruction of mail in general, not this “final notice” in particular.)

Envelopes That Claim to be Important


  1. I hate those letters. I’ve also seen a lot of letters sent to new homeowners that make you think they’re an import loan document, but are actually an advertisement for insurance. They always say on the top “Lender: YourBank, Inc. N.A.” which makes it look like it is from your bank even though it isn’t.

    Another pet peeve: letters and emails that say “Personal Letter”. Have you ever gotten an actual personal letter that said “Personal Letter” on it?

    1. Another pet peeve: letters and emails that say “Personal Letter”. Have you ever gotten an actual personal letter that said “Personal Letter” on it?

      I could easily imagine my mother doing that.

  2. With so many people in debt and defaulting, these envelopes make your heart skip a beat and you have to open it. Finding it’s only a loan offer or some sort. The Bastards!!!

  3. I have a simple test for whether a letter is actually significant:

    If the postmark bears the phrase “presorted standard US postage” or something along those lines, it’s junk mail.

    1. Word.  “Pre-Sorted Standard” postage is a 100% reliable indicator that the letter can safely be thrown away.

      The Post Office actually REQUIRES all personal correspondence, checks, invoices, etc to be sent “First Class” and not as “Standard” mail.

    2.  In Canada, the equivalent post mark is “addressed ad mail”. anything with that on it, I can safely toss directly into the recycling.

  4. After losing and receiving a few ATM cards, it seems apparent that the more important the contents, the more boring the envelope.

    1. I think that’s the point. Amex doesn’t want to send you an envelope that says HERE’S YOUR NEW AMEX PLATINUM CARD – READY TO USE!!!

      1. It’s never a good idea to advertise that an envelope contains a credit card, but AmEx (and likely other credit) cards are never ready-to-use; they must first be activated by the owner, who presumably either calls from their home phone and/or provides some personal information that your random mail thief most likely isn’t privvy to.

        1. I take the letter out of your mailbox, hack your land line from outside and I’m ready to go diamond shopping.

        2. I just activated my most recent credit card, and had to call to give the last four digits of my social.

          Social Security Numbers are quite easy to find, and I bet even easier to buy online. So just find or more in your neighborhood, check their mail every-so-often, and grab their new cards and activate them.

          Maybe a little risky (checking mailboxes), but hardly impossible.

    2. Absolutely. I’ve *never* seen a bill or other actually important mail item that had any of this crap written on it. Conversely, *every* item that did was junk.

  5. I used to think I was good at recognizing these envelopes, so I tossed them without opening. Then I tossed an envelope with my wife’s paycheck in it. Now I scrupulously open every one, each thrashing me another helpless step toward explosive, uncontrollable rage…

  6. No business that starts its relationship with me by trying to trick me is ever going to get any business from me. It’s as simple as that. Same goes for spammers.

    Many of the businesses playing this game probably don’t care. They’re most likely borderline scams who are actively looking for suckers. On the other hand, I’ve seen this thing done quite often by charities or political groups, which doesn’t impress me too much.

    Some charities also like to send out their missives in unusually-shaped envelopes with a ‘handwritten’ address so that they look like personal letters. Others hide the return address so you just get an anonymous-looking plain white envelope with nothing to indicate who sent it, and have to open it to discover that it’s the same outfit that’s already begged you for money six times in the last month.

    I believe the biological term for all this is “aggressive mimicry”.

    1. “No business that starts its relationship with me by trying to trick me is ever going to get any business from me. It’s as simple as that. Same goes for spammers.”

      They’re marketing directly to the stupid, for all the people they cast a net to, they’re hoping to get a much smaller percentage of respondents.

    2. I believe the biological term for all this is “aggressive mimicry”.

      Can we look forward to Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam in Junk Mail?

    3. No business that starts its relationship with me by trying to trick me is ever going to get any business from me. …

      Yep. I’ve only given my business to those who succeeded in tricking me without my noticing.

  7. These envelopes used to amuse me, until a barely-literate neighbor showed me one and asked me if she was in trouble.

  8. These drive me crazy because they make it easier for me to miss the important ones that look unimportant. I kept throwing out my insurance checks and then having to have them re-issued for a while.

    And yeah, they’re funny until they trick some one really vulnerable. Before we figured out my grandfather had alzheimers I figure these kinds of companies scammed about 10k from him. That’s 10k that could have been used towards his nursing home and hospice stay while he died of the disease that made them richer.

    1. My cousin finally stopped deicing my aunt and uncle’s driveway so that they couldn’t make it to the mailbox for at least part of the year.

  9. When I was working for USPS, these came thru all the time.  Particularly notable were the ones that did a semi-imitation of Express Mail envelopes.  I called those types “The Phony Express”.

    1.  Don’t security uniforms often have badges and other markings to make them look important and official, without directly aping the badges and markings of real police? Similar idea, I think.

  10. In Canada I just look at the top right. If it says “Addressed Admail” I toss it unopened. If it says lettermail, it stays.

    Makes it especially easy since I get both types from my bank.

    1. In the USA, “First Class Mail” postage means it’s probably worth opening, while “Standard Mail” means that it is — by regulation — definitely NOT a check, invoice, or personal correspondence.

      I wish the USPS followed Canada’s example in using the easily understood term “Admail” rather than the opaquely euphemistic, advertiser-friendly “Standard Mail” moniker.

  11. I hate those letters and I know they’re junk but I still open them anyway because some weird form of OCD compels me to. I then curse as I crumple and toss them into the trash.

  12. Any mail that isn’t sent certified is usually fine to dispose of. Sure, you may lose a few checks that way, but you’ll never have to worry about postal spam.

  13. I thought I was the only one who was fascinated by these envelopes!
    As a designer myself, I find their design really ingenious. I recently started having my mother’s mail diverted to my address (she having Alzheimer’s and is prone to losing important mail) and have been getting a ton of these “important” mails. The design is quite ingenious, and I note that a lot of it seems to be geared to tricking people of my mother’s age…a population more dependent on institutional aid (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.). The “official” design of these things make the actual real government mail seem unimportant. It’s equally entertaining and foul.

    1. a lot of it seems to be geared to tricking people of my mother’s age

      I was at a real estate seminar geared toward working with senior clients, and the speaker pointed out that for people over a certain age, the idea of throwing mail away unopened or not answering the phone when it rings was unthinkable. Because of course, they weren’t bombarded by spam in the 1940s.

  14. Most of the time I don’t even recycle bullshit spam that arrives in this sort of packaging.  This crap goes right into the wood stove.

  15. I was asked to design an envelope like this by a man who owned a home security business. I worked with this guy at his day job and he was an excellent technician – he maintained all the research and development lab computer systems, which are all special one-off cobbled together systems that don’t come with manuals or a support team. It took me a while to convince him that this was not the way he wanted to build his brand. I suppose this works for the kind of sleazy fly-by-night places that are looking to cheat people out of money for as long as they can, but I couldn’t understand why a legitimate business owner would even consider sending out something like that. It’s like advertising that you are completely untrustworthy.

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