Over the past 50 years or so the Post Office has gone through numerous developments in order to streamline the flow of mail and to cut costs. Unfortunately, as the Post Office developed new practices and embraced new technology, so too have those people eager to defraud it of valuable revenue.
Over the past few decades there have been several key changes in the way that the post office operated.
Unfortunately, from the Post Office’s perspective, many of these changes have left the door open for widespread postal fraud – in particular the production of forged defintives. From the 1960s, machines have been utilised to efficiently face and sort letters ready for delivery. Technology utilising phosphor ink (which is activated on exposure to ultraviolet light) was introduced, which should have allowed the fraudulent stamps to be detected; however, as this article highlights, this technology would appear not to be widely relied upon.
The Post Office has also closed numerous post offices in small villages and, to a lesser extent, in towns and cities. In doing so, the sale of postage stamps was changed from a number of highly-trained post office workers selling stamps over post office counters or from machines located at post offices, to a retail-access system, which allows retailers of many descriptions to sell postage stamps. The forger’s route to market was created.
In addition, the constant changes in stamp design and changes in face value have resulted in even the most experienced post office employee or philatelist finding it difficult to recognise validly issued stamps and establish that postage on letters has been correctly paid. What’s more, with the changes in corporate governance of Royal Mail, the impact of fraud changed from being one of depriving the Government of revenue to depriving a commercial organisation of revenue. Thus, other factors are taken into account, such as the commercial impact on profits; does it cost more to detect and deal with the fraudsters, rather than take the loss of revenue to the profit and loss account?
The vast majority of modern covers that I have examined that carry counterfeit stamps have no postal marks applied to identify and highlight the fraud, and even fewer covers have been surcharged. Rarely is the surcharge collected. It is difficult at times to persuade Royal Mail to apply postmarks to stamped envelopes so as to cancel the stamps and in doing so, prevent reuse.
Collecting Machin forgeries
One thing is certain; over the last 20 years, postal fraud has increased from what was a small-scale problem to quite a serious fraud committed on an industrial scale. Many of the forged stamps are quite difficult to detect and were produced in large quantities. Postal forgery of stamps post the year 2000 is big business. International criminal organisations control the widespread forgery of modern, mainly Machin head stamps. Today, faked definitives are so widespread that forged Machins can even be collected in their own right. The printing quality of these forgeries is so good that it is often very difficult to separate the genuine item from the forged stamp.
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