Hacking The United States Postal Service (Kinda)

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is fixture of American life with its roots going back to colonial times. It operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, delivering about half a billion pieces of mail a day. As with any system of that size it’s always interesting to peek and poke at to see how it works. Unfortunately, it’s not as fun to hack as the phone system once was, but that didn’t stop some hackers pranksters from giving it a go.

So how do you “hack” the mail? Simple, by testing its own rules. The folks at [Improbable Research] did just that and some of the results were interesting enough that we thought we would share them with you. They started with testing valuable items to see how honest USPS employees would be. First they attached a $20 bill to a post card. Yep, it showed up just 4 days later, and the money was still there. So they decided to see if sentimental items, that normally would be refused by the postal service, might skate through.  They were able to send both an un-boxed single rose, and a human tooth (in a clear plastic box) without issue. Both arrived just fine, despite the rule that human remains are not allowed to be shipped via USPS.  We’ll let you read some of the other items they tried.

So the next time you’re in Hawaii, forget about sending that generic, boring post card back home. Instead, slap some stamps on a coconut to let your friends know exactly how much fun you’re having.

With that said, we wouldn’t be doing our job looking out for our readers if we didn’t mention that before you try anything too outlandish, you can be fined for abuse of the postal system, even as a recipient. There was a fair amount of fallout when those guys sent a camera through the mail. Have fun, but not at someone else’s expense.

24 thoughts on “Hacking The United States Postal Service (Kinda)

  1. Yeah I think I remember reading this in college. Somebody definitely needs to redo the experiment for a post 9/11 postal service. I think it would be really cool for somebody to map out the postal network so for any given piece of mail (with to/from addresses) you could figure out which distro centers it would be likely to traverse.

  2. how about sending a cell phone with gps tracker with ringer and vibrator disabled so it would never be detected.

    the phone with gps is so you can track in real time and see if packages sit on conveyer belt going in circles due to faulty scanners.

  3. I wish the UK postal service were as tolerant. The banned items list on UK postage is so all encompassing that anything can come under it so they destroy tons of stuff every day, all you get is a sticker telling you it was destroyed.

  4. Sentimental items are banned because they could be lost, and good guy USPS doesn’t want that to happen to you. To actually test these rules you’d need to ship thousands of packages.

    For 14 years I worked in Transportation Logistics, often coding or managing the process of coding all the compliance rules for multi carrier shipping software. And let me just say, the USPS is the best at writing detailed rules. You’d be amazed what’s documented. For example, there’s a specific set of rules for shipping live scorpions.

    I love the USPS. I think it’s the best example of government done right.

    1. Something that’d be a black hat hack, don’t do this, but in theory you could ship packages with bricks COD (collect on delivery) to random addresses in wealthy zip codes. I’m sure you’d get caught eventually, but if someone did this to thousands of addresses one time then disappeared I’m not sure how they’d get you.

      1. This is also an effective counter-strategy to direct mail companies that provide you with a free return enveloppe. Stuff some old newspapers in there and send it back.

      2. I remember reading about a construction company sending bricks with stamps on them to Alaska to build a house. Was supposedly cheaper than shipping pallets of bricks via freight. IIRC the USPS put a stop to it.

        1. I think that was in the 19th century and it was a whole, disassembled building, transport costs were higher than mail so somebody bought a shitload of stamps and mailed a building to himself!

  5. another thing have you ever thought of sending large lithium cells and batteries to see if they get delivered?

    you need to exceed 50 watts for cells and 100 watts for batteries.

    send a mix of the most dangerous kind (lipo) and the safest lifepo4 and some unmarked and some mislabeled as books.

    1. Also don’t forget that a watt is a unit of power, (which is not regulated by the postal service). You probably meant watt-hour, which is a unit of energy (which is a regulated quantity).

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