Suspicious Mail and Package

Harvard University receives many types of packages and letters each day. A suspicious package is any package causing concern as to its content because of its appearance or labeling. The likelihood of your ever receiving a bomb in the mail is extremely remote. Unfortunately, however, across the United Sates a small number of explosive devices have been mailed over the years resulting in death, injury, and destruction of property.

Mail handlers who receive mail that they have suspicions about should contact the Harvard University Police Department at 617-495-1212 immediately.

If you encounter a suspicious package or letter, your best protection is your knowledge of the types of mail you normally handle and your awareness of some of the following procedures:

If you identify a suspicious letter or package:
If the item is highly suspicious (e.g. obvious contamination or specific written threats):

  • Do not open
  • Avoid further handling and isolate item as best possible
  • Evacuate the area, close the room and prevent further access
  • Wash your hands immediately with soap and water
  • Call the Harvard University Police Department and follow their instructions and wait for their arrival.

Awareness of what may be suspicious: Please understand that your knowledge of the types of mail your department receives will help you to identify what is out of the ordinary. The following indicators may make a person deem a package "suspicious":

  • Envelopes sealed with tape
  • Restricted endorsements such as "Personal", "Private", or "Addressee Only". These characteristics are important when the addressee does not usually receive personal mail at the office.
  • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses, especially those in hand printed block lettering
  • Addressee's name or title may be inaccurate.
  • No return address or nonsensical return address.
  • Incorrect or non-existent departments or position titles
  • Misspelling of common words
  • Powders, oily stains, discolorations or strange odors
  • Unusual or unverifiable return addresses
  • Mail that is inconsistent with the types of mail normally received
  • Distorted handwriting or the name and address may be prepared with homemade labels or cut-and-paste lettering.
  • Protruding wires, aluminum foil, or oil stains and may emit a peculiar odor.
  • Cancellation or postmark may show a different location than the return address.
  • Excessive postage or no postage at all.
  • Package may feel rigid, or appear uneven or lopsided.
  • Unprofessionally wrapped with several combinations of tape used to secure the package, wrapped in string or endorsed "Fragile-Handle With Care", "Rush-Do Not Delay", "To Be Opened in the Privacy of", "Your Lucky Day is Here" or "Prize Enclosed."
  • Irregular shape, soft spots, bulges or sloshing sounds
  • Pressure or resistance noted when removing contents from an envelope or package.
  • Any letters or packages arriving before or after a phone call from an unknown person asking if the item was received.

Again, knowing the type of mail that your department receives will help you to determine what is "suspicious". If you are suspicious of a mailing and are unable to verify the contents with the addressee or sender do not open it and call the HUPD at 617-495-1212 immediately