State Mail Services


All state employees should be aware of how to identify suspicious letters and packages. Read guidelines below, or refer to the SMS Mail Security Guide.

What Constitutes a Suspicious Letter or Package?

Some typical characteristics of letters and parcels that may be considered suspicious are ones that:
are unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you

  • have excessive postage
  • have a fictitious or no return address
  • are marked with restrictive endorsements, such as "Personal" or "To Be Opened by Addressee Only"
  • are poorly typed or have handwritten addresses or misspellings of common words
  • shows a city or state postmark that does not match the return address
  • of unusual weight, given their size, or are lopsided or oddly shaped
  • have excessive tape on them
  • have a strange odor or chemical smell
  • have a powdery substance on or leaking from the package
  • are leaking any kind of fluid
  • have protruding wires, screws, or other metal parts
  • make a sandy noise or any other noise when moved
  • you consider out of the ordinary for your work area

What should you do if you receive a suspicious letter or package?

  • Do not shake or open the 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 any contents which may have spilled.
  • Do not attempt to clean up any spilled contents.
  • Alert others in the area about the suspicious 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.
  • Ensure that all persons who touched the package or envelope wash their hands, face, and arms with soap and water immediately.
  • Notify your supervisor and call 911 / Police immediately.
  • Make a list of all persons who have touched the package. Provide this information to the emergency responders upon their arrival.
  • After the incident is resolved the agency mail supervisor should report it to SMS. Suspicious letters and packages may consist of a variety of contents.

If parcel is open and/or a threat is identified:

For a Bomb
  • Evacuate the area immediately
  • Call 911
For Radiological
  • Limit exposure - don't handle
  • Distance (evacuate area)
  • Shield yourself from object
  • Call 911
For a Biological or Chemical
  • Isolate - don't handle
  • Call 911
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water

Mail Security Resources

Download the Mail Security Guide See standard procedures for state employees and information for Virginia mail centers. Read the guide to learn how to identify suspicious mail and what to do if you encounter hazardous packages.

Download the SMS Suspicious Mail Poster

Download the SMS Mail Emergency Contact Sheet

For offices at Capitol Square in Richmond: Download the SMS Mail Emergency Contact Sheet for Capitol Square