In the midst of a public panic over anthrax delivered in the mail, experts at the US Postal Service (USPS) stress that the vast majority of mail is harmless–and that simple precautions can help individuals stay safe.
“Let’s put it into context,” USPS spokesman Greg Frey, based in Washington DC, said in an interview with Reuters Health. “Since September 11th we have processed about 20 billion pieces of mail. So what we’re looking at is really a handful of very targeted high-profile cases.”
Frey emphasized that the American public should realistically weigh the risks–which he said were minimal–before blindly panicking about the contents of their office in-trays and home mailboxes. Nevertheless, he noted that the USPS is cautioning consumers to be vigilant about inspecting their mail for signs of ill intentions.
“We think it’s important for our customers, the public and our employees to make rational decisions and use good common sense,” he said. “And most customers know pretty well who their mail is coming from. Much of it is mail that comes every month–things like statements, bills, personal correspondence around birthdays and holidays, and packages which tend to be in response to things that we’ve ordered from companies.”
He added that bulk mail advertising usually ships from printing plants in enormous grouped quantities, minimizing the risk of tampering.
Frey said that for incoming mail that does not fall into any of those categories, both the USPS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have highlighted certain telltale signs of potential trouble. Among those indicators are letters or packages which:
lack a return address;
come from an unknown or unfamiliar source;
are stamped with excessive postage, perhaps originating in a foreign country;
are labeled with bad type, bad handwriting, incorrect spelling, or incorrect titles;
are addressed solely to a title rather than a name, or marked “personal” or “confidential”;
contain protruding wires, are bulky or unevenly sealed, or wrapped excessively in string or tape;
or display evidence of strange odors, oil stains, discoloration, or ooze powder or liquid.
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