Fake Forever stamps are going around: What to know about USPS warning

Postal officials warn that deeply discounted postage stamps may be a scam.

But you’ll have to look carefully to see whether they’re fake. And what may be more unsettling: When it comes to policing social media and ersatz e-commerce sites for schemes, you may be on your own.

The number of counterfeit stamps being sold online is escalating, postal officials said Wednesday. Scammers are peddling them on social media, through e-commerce and third-party vendors. The fake stamps are easier to print.

And while email is replacing snail mail, scammers are selling counterfeit stamps — especially during the holidays — because many folks still send greeting cards. The postal service processed and estimated 1.3 billion of them.

New stamps use ink that glows under UV light. Fake ones don’t.

The counterfeit stamps often are sold in bulk, with discounts from 20% to 50% off their face value, and a popular postage to imitate is the first-class Forever stamp — most often the Flag stamp — for a 1-ounce card or letter, which costs 58 cents.

What can you do?

Well, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the postal service, has said that if you see a deal on postage stamps that’s “too good to pass up?” — say half off — the stamps are “probably counterfeit.”

In other words, the inspection service said, turning to an old adage about skepticism and thrift: “If you see an online offer for stamps that seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

The postal service doesn’t discount stamps, but some retailers do.

Still, getting confirmation on what’s legitimate is more challenging.

When the Free Press came across a suspicious website, uspsstam.com, and asked the postal inspector’s office whether it was legitimate, the response was: “I encourage you to take a look at our Scam Article on Counterfeit Stamps.”

The Free Press followed up with a call and email seeking clarification, and inspectors responded with a longer, but also vague email: “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is actively working to identify shipments of counterfeit postage stamps entering the U.S. and the online sales of suspected counterfeit stamps.”

It’s illegal to knowingly send mail with counterfeit stamps, but it’s not entirely clear how aggressively the postal service checks for fake stamps given the volume of mail and that older stamps that evade counterfeit countermeasures are still in use. If the postal service does detect bogus stamps, it may return the mail to sender or turn it over to the postal inspection service.

Getting social networks to take down fake ads is another problem.

Last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported a man who had been scammed by an ad he saw on Facebook. It offered 100 regular U.S. postage stamps for $46, a $12 discount.

When the Philadelphian tried to report it to the social media network, he was told “the online seller did not violate its rules.” It wasn’t until the Inquirer asked about his case that Facebook removed the advertiser and the man got a refund.

It’s also not just fake stamps that you need to be wary of with these schemes.

If a scammer collects your personal data and payment information, that could trigger other problems: identity theft and fraudulent purchases without your permission or knowledge.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

Identifying scams

In addition to a ridiculously low price, here are some other things to look for:

Website addresses, which appear legitimate, but aren’t. They may be misspelled or missing a letter. Examples include: uspsstam.com, UUStamps.com and uspssts.com.

Typos and other oddities. AARP, which reported on fake stamps, sent an email to a suspect site. The response was from the “qijiuzhongfu Support Team,” a red flag.

Undue urgency to buy. If you feel pressured to make a purchase and have doubts, it might be better to lose a seemingly good deal than to lose your money.

Scams can be reported at 877-876-2455 and www.uspis.gov/report.