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Beware: Criminals Sell Counterfeit Postage Stamps Online

Under new rule, postal officials may destroy mail shipped with fakes

spinner image two united states postage stamp  the real stamp is on the left and in the background as a repeated pattern and the counterfeit stamp is on the right
Courtesy USPS

A Forever stamp now costs 68 cents, a price that may tempt some bargain hunters to look for discounted stamps online. Unfortunately, that’s a good way to end up with counterfeit U.S. postage. A growing crime involves fake U.S. stamps printed overseas and smuggled into this country for sale online. The fraudulent activity hits the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) with multimillion-dollar revenue losses and leaves unwitting buyers stuck with worthless fake postage. 

Increase in fakes 

The counterfeiting of U.S. Forever stamps — which can be used to mail a one-ounce letter “forever,” even if prices rise — grew exponentially in 2021, says Jay Bigalke, editor in chief of Linn’s Stamp News in Ohio. U.S. flag stamps are most often counterfeited, according to Bigalke, as are many commemoratives. In 2023 he published a catalog of about 750 different Forever counterfeits, most from the last 10 years. Since then he’s identified at least 200 more. “It’s hard to keep up,” he says. 

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USPS confirms the recent uptick in fake-stamp schemes: “Within the past three years there has been an increase in sort of high-quality counterfeits originating overseas,” says Michael Martel, a postal inspector and agency spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, USPS’s law enforcement arm.

Fake postage labels on packages is another problem. A 50-year-old Los Angeles woman who ran a shipping-and-postage firm was charged last year for allegedly using counterfeit postage to ship more than 9 million pieces of mail over six months in a scam that authorities said cost USPS more than $60 million.

Fighting postage fraud

spinner image two images on the left is an actual postage stamp and on the right is a fake version of lower quality
The stamp on the left is genuine; the one on the right is fake.
Amos Media Co.

Last year a new rule to attack the problem took effect, allowing USPS to consider mail affixed with counterfeits “abandoned,” and then destroy it. USPS spokesman Albert Ruiz declined to say definitively whether, under the new rule, any such mail had been destroyed. The good news: Some perpetrators do get caught. A South Carolina case resulted in guilty pleas last year from Bruce and Lisa Quimby, who purchased counterfeit Forever stamps from China to sell online. Authorities said the pair stole $609,900 from buyers of the fake postage.

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How to tell if stamps are fake

Technical advances in printing mean it’s “pretty difficult” to distinguish a real stamp from a fake “unless you really, really, really know what to look for,” say Bigalke, who adds that counterfeiters even have been able to replicate coding on stamps to “trick” postage-cancellation machines so the devices don’t reject the mailings. USPS says it uses several methods and indicators to determine if postage is counterfeit, but won’t reveal details, which could “enable the creation of counterfeit postage,” officials say.

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But there are a few red flags for fake stamps, including:

  • They are advertised at more than 20 percent below the list price. “Anything, when you’re talking 20, 30, 40, 50 percent off the face value … is more than likely fraud,” Martel says.
  • They have a foul, plastic smell, since they’re made with cheap ink, according to Bigalke.

How to purchase genuine postage

What to do if you have bought counterfeit stamps

spinner image screenshot of a fraudulent facebook ad for fake postage stamps at a reduced price with the word scam stamped on top of it
AARP

Ken Martin, a director of the American Philatelic Society in Pennsylvania, says it’s tough for victims of these scams to get their money back, although he had a colleague who he says got lucky after buying hundreds of deeply discounted Love stamps online last year for invitations to her son’s wedding. After the fakery was discovered, she got a refund from the e-commerce platform that sold the fraudulent postage. “I know a lot of people who have not gotten money back,” since they probably bought counterfeits from “completely fraudulent websites,” Martin says.

Under the new rule, items found in the mail bearing counterfeit postage “will be considered abandoned and disposed of at the discretion of the Postal Service.”

Report counterfeit stamps at www.uspis.gov/report or by calling its fraud hotline: 800-372-8347.

USPS offers more information on counterfeit stamps online.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.