AARP Eye Center
As an estimated 1.3 billion holiday cards descend on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), there is a growing problem that the agency would love to stamp out: counterfeit postage stamps sold on Facebook, eBay and illicit websites.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of fake stamp sites on Facebook,” says Andrea Avery, an assistant inspector in charge at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the law enforcement arm of the postal service.
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A first-class Forever stamp for a 1-ounce card or letter costs 58 cents — and when bargain-basement prices are advertised, that’s a red flag. “A substantial discount means the stamps are likely counterfeit,” Avery says.
In a nationwide advisory Dec. 17, USPIS said the problem of counterfeits sold online “has escalated.” Counterfeits — most often the U.S. flag stamp — often are being sold in bulk quantities at 20 to 50 percent less than their stated value. “To ensure your trusted communication arrives at its destination without delay, the Postal Inspection Service wants you to be aware of — and avoid — phony postage,” it said.
Sleuthing out sham stamps
Jay Bigalke, 39, editor in chief of Linn’s Stamp News in Sidney, Ohio, is a longtime sleuth of counterfeit stamps. Yet even he was surprised the day after Thanksgiving when at a post office outside Dayton, Ohio, the patron in front of him asked the clerk about “the Black Friday Facebook discount.” No such postage deal exists, but earlier that morning Bigalke saw a Facebook ad in his news feed purporting to sell 100 Christmas stamps — worth $58 — for $39.90, or a 31 percent markdown.
In August, Bigalke warned about counterfeiters copying U.S. commemorative stamps being offered online at steep discounts. The problem “has exploded … as soon as one seller is stopped, another pops up,” he wrote then.
Earlier this month, WHEC TV in Rochester, New York, reported that a man needing more stamps for Christmas cards was scammed by a Facebook ad from UUStamps.com, a website whose registrant is in the Chinese province of Hunan. When AARP emailed questions to the site, the "qijiuzhongfu Support Team" replied saying it would "respond shortly."
Postal Inspector Raymond Williams told the NBC affiliate that USPIS is “aware of an increase in suspected counterfeit stamps offered for sale, with many being offered online on online platforms.” It’s believed many of the fakes are produced outside the U.S., he said, and his agency is “working to identify shipments of counterfeit postage stamps entering the U.S. and the online sales of suspected counterfeit stamps.”