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Royal Mail waives £5 penalties for some amid crackdown on fake stamps – here's what to watch out for

Royal Mail is temporarily waiving its £5 penalty fee for anyone who receives a letter with a fake stamp on it while it takes fresh action against counterfeits. It's also developing a new tool that will help people to check whether a stamp they've bought is legitimate before using it. Here's what you need to know. 

Royal Mail introduced barcoded stamps in 2023 to help cut fraud – and it claims the use of counterfeit stamps has fallen by around 90% since it did. Yet a rise in people complaining that they've been fined for using 'fake' stamps has forced it to drop fees for those receiving letters with fake stamps on them, at least for now.  

Still have old, non-barcoded stamps? Exchange them through Royal Mail's 'Swap Out' scheme – see below

For now, you won't be charged the £5 penalty if you receive a letter with a fake stamp on it – but you might still be charged if you send one

Royal Mail is introducing a host of new measures to try and prevent people from being caught out, including: 

  • Temporarily pausing the £5 penalty fee for anyone receiving a letter with a fake stamp on it. Instead, the letter you receive will have a sticker on it telling you a fake stamp has been used – though Royal Mail won't issue backdated refunds to people who wrongly believe they've already been charged. This system is expected to be in place until the launch of Royal Mail's new stamp scanner (see below for more). 

    If, however, you're the sender and your address is noted on the item you send (for example, a return to sender note) you will receive the £5 penalty instead. For more on how to avoid buying fake stamps, see below. We're also checking if you can challenge the penalty if you don't think you should have been charged and we'll update this story when we know more. 

  • Introducing a new 'fake stamp scanner' to the Royal Mail app. In future, you'll be able to scan stamp barcodes and check for yourself whether they're legitimate or not. Royal Mail told us the scanner is currently in development, though it couldn't say when it will be added to the app and available to use.

    We've asked if app users will be notified when the new tool is ready, as well as how to identify fake stamps if you can't use the app – for example if you don't have a smartphone – and we will update this story when we know more. 

  • Using the services of a new independent 'stamp expert' to verify whether stamps are legitimate. The independent expert will verify whether a stamp is genuine as part of Royal Mail’s escalation process for customer complaints. Their decision will be final and fully independent of Royal Mail.

Royal Mail said it is also going to work with retailers and online marketplaces to try to prevent the sale of fake stamps.

How to try to spot counterfeit stamps

Here are some tips from Royal Mail to help you to avoid buying fake stamps in the meantime:

  • Check if the stamp has an unusually shiny surface, unusual colouration or inaccurate perforations. This could indicate that the stamp is counterfeit.

  • Be wary of online retailers selling stamps at discounted prices. Royal Mail told us it does not sell stamps with large discounts. Any seller advertising stamps for sale and promoting a discount that looks "too good to be true" could be selling fakes.

  • Wherever possible, buy your stamps from a reputable seller. Royal Mail says this includes its own online shop, the Post Office and "reputable high street retailers" – though it hasn't specified any examples. It may be worth hanging onto your receipt, so you've proof of purchase just in case it's needed.

If you think you've unwittingly bought fake stamps, you can report it via Royal Mail's website or by calling its customer services team on 03457 740 740.

Still have non-barcoded stamps? Exchange them using Royal Mail's 'Swap Out' scheme

To swap your old non-barcoded everyday stamps, you'll need to complete a standard 'Swap Out' form for stamps worth up to and including £200, or a bulk stamp 'Swap Out' form for stamps worth more than £200 (links open PDFs). If you don't have a printer, you can request a form on the Royal Mail website. Both forms include instructions on where to send your stamps.

There is currently no deadline on when you need to complete the swap by, but we suggest doing it sooner rather than later in case the scheme closes. Royal Mail says it'll try to swap your stamps within seven working days.

You don't need to exchange non-barcoded Christmas stamps and 'special' stamps with pictures on though, as they continue to be valid.

For more information on the 'Swap Out' scheme, see Royal Mail's website

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