Suspicious Packages - How to Recognize and Handle | Illinois Poison Center 

Suspicious Packages - How to Recognize and Handle

Nov 26, 2020
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Recognizing and Handling a Suspicious Package



What are some of the characteristics of a suspicious package?


Some characteristics of a suspicious package or envelope include the following:

• Incorrect or unusual labeling

  • Excessive (too much) postage
  • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses
  • Common words spelled wrong
  • Strange return address or no return address
  • Wrong titles or title without a name
  • Not addressed to a specific person
  •  Marked with stamps, such as “Personal,” “Confidential” or “Do not X-ray”
  • Written threats on outside of package
  • Postmarked from a city or state that does not match the return address
  • • Unusual appearance
    • Powdery substance felt through or appearing on the package or envelope
    • Oily stains, other colored stains, smells
    • Lopsided or uneven envelope
    • Excessive packing material such as masking tape, string, etc.
    • • Other suspicious signs
      • Heavy weight
      • Ticking sound
      • Wires or aluminum foil coming out of the package

What should be done if suspicious mail is received?

  • Do not open a package or envelope if it looks suspicious.
  • Do not shake or empty the contents of the package or envelope.
  • Do not carry the package or envelope, show it to others or allow others to examine it.
  • Put the package or envelope down on a stable surface.
  • Do not sniff, touch, taste or look closely at the package or any of the contents that may have spilled out.
  • Alert others in the area about the package or envelope.
  • Leave the area, close any doors and take actions to prevent others from entering the area.  If possible, shut off the ventilation system.
  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  • If at work, notify a supervisor, a security officer or a law enforcement official.  If at home, contact the police and the local county health department. (Visit for a listing of all county health departments in Illinois.)
  • If possible, make a list of the people who were in the room or area when the suspicious package or envelope was received.  Also make a list of people who handled it.  Give the lists to both the police and the local public health authorities.

Revised 01/2005

Reviewed by IPC Staff 11/2011

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