Insufficient postage/fake stamps: How do they know?

The question may seem elementary. But I imagine the mail-sorting and delivering process is almost entirely automated. It’s machines checking the postage stamps on those hundreds of millions of pieces of mail daily, not people.

Stamps don’t seem all that sophisticated - just sticky paper with printing on them. So, does the system spit out incorrect stamps and insufficient postage? How?

Are these letters delivered, but the error discovered when a postal worker puts them in a P.O. box or prepares to deliever them to a house?

If I wrote ‘34’ on a Barney sticker, as it appears on legal stamps, would it get past their machinery?

(The USPS web site is full of boring stuff about trying to sell you their services. They don’t answer cool questions like this. :D)

As hard as it might be to believe, your mail is still handled by human beings. While automation does enhance the process a lot, at least two, and usually more than two actual living humans see every letter. These humans also happen to be very familiar with stamps, and the appropriate weight of a first class letter. If they have a question, a scale is almost always readily available to find out if your letter is too heavy.

No, writing 34c on a Barney stamp won’t work. You would have a better chance using an old stamp of a familiar type, but it just is not all that hard to visually scan for the right stamps, and closely examine anything that gets your attention. A stamp that appears to be a counterfeit is sufficiently out of the ordinary to attract attention very rapidly.

Preservation and Care of Philatelic Materials

In other words, there are “invisible” markings on stamps that can be detected by automatic machinery.

(edited to fix link)

[Edited by Arnold Winkelried on 02-28-2001 at 01:05 PM]

The two new 34 cent stamps I’ve seen, do not have 34 on them, just “first class rate”. What happens when we go to 35 cent rate? There is no indication the current ones could be insufficient no matter what the first class rate is. Maybe I could by 1,000 stamps now and avoid the rate increase! [sub]Yeh, I know, whoopie! save $10 on $3400.

later, Tom.

A classic column with some relevancy: Can I reuse the uncanceled stamps from my junk mail?

When one of my sisters was an art major, one of her classmates had become quite adept at drawing postage stamps on his correspondence. Far as I know, the Postal Service never caught on.

They change the “first class rate” stamp each time one is prepared for a rate adjustment period. For awhile they used letters each time until they got to F and made that the flower stamp. But this year’s is a new one and I think changes will be made each time.

I can tell you that until this very week, I was using my old 33 cent stamps without the additional 1 cent stamp. I simply didnt put a return address on the envelope (I never do anyway). All of my bills arrived in a timely fashion. The mail police didn’t come looking for me. :slight_smile:

How big a crime is it to use fake stamps? Would it be a worse crime to use a Barney sticker than to use a homemade OJ Simpson commemorative?

I seem to recall that one of the “security features” on a stamp is some kind of special ink whose presence is detected by the mail processing machines. If absent, the letter is shunted to a bin for manual processing.

Or you may have had a very nice postal carrier. Our letter carrier had a few extra rolls of 1-cent stamps (purchased them himself) and put them on the letters that did not equal the new rate. Said he did it for two reasons:

  1. Several of the people on the route are elderly and do not get around well, so most of them could not get the stamps in time for the rate change, and
  2. He did not feel like carrying the same letters back when he had to carry them once already.