Section 17 - How to Recognize and Handle Suspicious Packages or Envelopes

Letters containing Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) have been received by mail in several areas of the United States.  In some instances, anthrax exposures have occurred, with several persons becoming infected.  To prevent such exposures and subsequent infection, all persons should learn how to recognize a suspicious package or envelope and take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others.

Mail Handling

  • Handle mail in well-ventilated areas.
  • If possible chose an area to open mail that can be isolated should a suspicious package or envelope be found in the mail.
  • Avoid touching mouth, eyes, or face when handling mail. Use gloves while handling mail. 
  • Change gloves when they are grossly dirty or have perforations.  Remove gloves when eating, drinking, or smoking. 
  • Identifying Suspicious Packages and Envelopes 

Inappropriate or unusual labeling

(The following are the official recommendations.  It is understood that for many Lamar Offices, many of these characteristics are not unusual. Offices that regularly receive mail from overseas and/or mail exhibiting some of the characteristics below, should be especially careful to select a location for mail opening that can be easily isolated. Require all employees to follow the recommended precautions when opening the mail.) 

  • Excessive postage
  • Handwritten or poorly typed addresses
  • Misspellings of common words
  • Strange return address or no return address
  • Incorrect titles or title without a name
  • Not addressed to a specific person
  • Marked with restrictions, such as “Personal”, “Confidential”, or “Do Not X-Ray
  • Marked with any threatening language
  • Postmarked from a city or state that does not match the return address 


  • Powdery substance felt through or appearing on the package or envelope
  • Oily stains, discoloration, or odor
  • Lopsided or uneven envelope
  • Excessive packaging material such as masking tape, string, etc. 

Other suspicious signs 

  • Excessive weight
  • Ticking sound
  • Protruding wires or aluminum foil 



Handling Suspicious Packages or Envelopes 

  • Do not shake or empty contents of any suspicious 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 it or at contents, which may have spilled.
  • Alert others in the area about the suspicious package or envelope. 
  • Leave the area, close any doors, and take action to prevent others from entering the area.  If possible, shut off the ventilation system.
  • WASH hands with soap and water to prevent spreading potentially infectious material to face or skin. 
  • Seek additional instructions for exposed or potentially exposed persons.
  • Notify supervisor, Lamar Police Department (Ext. 8311), University/Institute Safety Specialist, and University Post Office.
  • If possible, create a list of persons who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized and a list of persons who also may have handled this package or letter.  Give this list to the University/Institute Safety Specialist and Lamar Police Department.[1] 

[1] CDC Health Advisory, 10 31, 2001, 21:25 EST


FBI Advisory for Suspicious Packages