Reusing postage stamps
May 1, 2006 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Reusing postage stamps - How much trouble could you get it?

As part of my business, I send out a lot of mail. I also get a lot of mail back, due to wrong addresses etc. To save money, I reuse the stamps I get back. You can cut the stamp off the envelope, erase the postmark and glue it onto another envelope. This technique has worked everytime I've done it, which is pretty much every day for many years.

So exactly how bad is this practice? Is there a significant chance of being fined or incarcerated?

Particulars: I'm in texas, I own the business in question.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Anonymous, meet 18 U.S.C. § 1720. 18 U.S.C § 1720, meet anonymous.

Whether anyone has actually received a year in the joint for this is beyond my knowledge, but rest assured you are indeed violating federal law.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:52 PM on May 1, 2006

There might be things wrong with the USPS, but the fact that you send out mail to invalid addresses is not the fault of the USPS or your fellow rate payers. Being caught is one issue; being honest is another. The USPS accepted your (incorrectly addressed) article, attempted delivery and returned it to you and you want more? If this is a budget issue for you, find some other way to make a living.
posted by namret at 7:41 PM on May 1, 2006

Forbes says you probably won't be prosecuted.

But... it is fraud. And a rather dishonest way of conducting business. And I'm unfamiliar with your company, but it is probably most economical to just buy the stamps and spend your time on more important business. Isn't your time worth more? It sounds rather labour-intensive to go to all that trouble.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2006

Aside from the "yes it's fraud" answers, I'll pipe in with another: It looks really cheesy. Really really cheesy. If I'm a customer of yours, and I receive a piece of mail from you with a glued-on or taped-on stamp with double postmarks, I'm not going to develop the highest opinion of your business.

If you send a lot of mail, get a professional postage meter and use that.
posted by gwenzel at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2006

CZ, that link goes to a waste-discharge case. :)
posted by aberrant at 7:59 PM on May 1, 2006

Well, on one hand, it's mail fraud. On the other hand, it doesn't seem morally wrong, considering the circumstances (it's not as if you're reusing stamps on stuff that was sent to you)
posted by fvox13 at 8:33 PM on May 1, 2006

I heard that they mark the stamps with UV, even if you don't see it in the postmark. Haven't checked it out though, and never seen a postman check it either.
posted by furtive at 8:46 PM on May 1, 2006

Canadian postmarks are UV-stamped. Or were, at any rate; I remember from the month or two I had a UV bulb as a kid.

Also, Tide glows as if radioactive. It's a little unnerving.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 PM on May 1, 2006

And I gotta chime in with a consumer-end warning as well: if I received business mail with a re-used stamp, I'd rapidly develop a strong distaste for doing business with them. For one thing, if they're stooping to petty fraud, I can't exactly say as I'm going to trust them...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:58 PM on May 1, 2006

I'm with Five Fresh Fish. Whenever a company sends me an obviously used stamp, I avoid doing business with them. (I've had to legitimately cut stamps off envelopes that had been damaged before sending and I have always made sure not to use those stamps for clients. Note that this is not fraud, as the stamps were never used.)

You risk having mail sent back to you and the POst Office coming after you for a service fee, depending on where you are. If they notice a trend, you might end up with a larger suit.

How much is a stamp? If it takes you 30 seconds to find one, clip it and glue it, what value does this represent? Assume you earn $30 an hour -- it's costing you 25 cents to reuse the stamp. That's not really worth the risk and you could be using that time to do something value-added.
posted by acoutu at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2006

"Whenever a company sends me an obviously used stamp, I avoid doing business with them."

Just curious how you would know this....
posted by ParisParamus at 9:10 PM on May 1, 2006

I'm with namret, fff, and acoutu. Also, I'd like to send a shout-out to matt for continuing to allow anonymous questions about how to defraud governments. Great work, matt!
posted by b1tr0t at 9:40 PM on May 1, 2006


is taking a beating here, which in and of itself may actually be a good thing. Sometimes one just needs to hear what they are doing is wrong. I think the thread should stay. If anonymous doesn't learn maybe someone else will.

Personally I agree with 1. acouto, this is a dumb move financially and 2. everyone else--send my business a used stamp and I'll wonder where the hell else do you skimp on my behalf? Hell, I've been scolded for not overnighting a document that arrived the next day just the same via snail mail.
posted by vaportrail at 10:00 PM on May 1, 2006

ParisParamus, I know people have reused stamps when I repeatedly receive mail where the stamp has paper underneath it, is torn, thinner in one area, already has a cancellation, etc. But, then, I come from a family of postal workers.
posted by acoutu at 10:18 PM on May 1, 2006

It would certainly cost more than 39 cents to prosecute (let alone to expend the labor to detect) this sort of low-level mail fraud, so you're pretty safe, legally speaking. If you insist on continuing this minor form of deviance, it would be wise to (re)use the cancelled stamps for paying bills.

Or sending letters to the elderly.
posted by LimePi at 11:33 PM on May 1, 2006

Don't mess with the postal inspectors, which is who you would end up dealing with if they decided they want to. And yes, this is fraud.

There are some UV stamps (errr...markings used on stamps) used out there, but (at least as of right now) only in very low numbers.

As for it being more than 39 cents to prosecute, well sure; but that 39 cents is per letter, and it could add up.
posted by inigo2 at 6:05 AM on May 2, 2006

"On the other hand, it doesn't seem morally wrong, considering the circumstances (it's not as if you're reusing stamps on stuff that was sent to you)"

How is it not morally wrong? The stamps don't pay for delivery to the right person, they pay for processing and transit.
posted by klangklangston at 6:30 AM on May 2, 2006

Yes, how is it not morally wrong? He got the service he paid for, now he wants it again, without paying for it. Are you applying a phone-call model or something? It's not similar.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:42 AM on May 2, 2006

I reused stamps when I was a fuck-the-world teenager with a lot of pen pals. I don't do it anymore, so please don't hate me, AskMefi. Anyway, I was "caught," but all that happened is they sent the letter back to me.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:03 AM on May 2, 2006

They might treat it different for a business than a teenager with pen pals...

The trick I used to try was to put the TO: address as the return, and the FROM: in the middle, and then not put on postage; I thought maybe it would be returned to my actual destination. It wasn't...oh well...
posted by inigo2 at 7:05 AM on May 2, 2006

inigo2, your trick did work, once upon a time. Enough people did it that the post office stopped "returning" mail like that. Except that - when I lived in a condo complex with its own mail room and outgoing mail drop, the postman would put mail I forgot to stamp into my mailbox. Unstamped mail you put in the corner box is not going to any address.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:15 AM on May 2, 2006

I tried to reuse a stamp that hadn't been cancelled on a card that was returned to me. I peeled it off very carefully. But when I put it on the new card and mailed it, that second card was returned to me saying that the stamp was invalid or some such thing. So you must be lucky.
posted by cass at 8:21 AM on May 2, 2006

If anonymous is sending "a lot of mail" to all these questionable addresses, this sounds like a great candidate for Bulk Mail instead of sticking all those stamps on by hand and then taking them off and re-using them. Looks like you can get discounts on First-Class mailings with as few as 500 pieces.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:33 AM on May 2, 2006

Has anyone brought up the fact that it seems like bad business practice to send mail to questionable addresses?
posted by elisabeth r at 8:41 AM on May 2, 2006

If he goes with presorted standard mail, he can send out as few as 200 pieces at a time.
posted by faceonmars at 8:44 AM on May 2, 2006

I'm sure this response is late enough that nobody will notice, but postal fraud is no laughing matter. My dad had a colleague that went to prison for several years after being convicted. The guy's career, needless to say, was destroyed.

I guess it's not sexy enough to get a lot of news coverage, but here are two stories about postal fraud: 13 years, two months and $28,800.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2006

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