The United States Postal Service makes postage affordable and accessible, offering many different services online, like printing shipping labels. Unfortunately, one mail class that cannot be purchased online is First-Class. That means you have to go to the Post Office for stamps.
But what if you have a perfectly good stamp at home – except it’s used? Can you reuse stamps for mailing? Here is what you need to know before you try it!
Can You Reuse Stamps In 2023?
The USPS expressly forbids the reuse of postage, including stamps, in its Mailing Standards manual, Section 604.1.8., which states stamp reuse is “punishable by fine and imprisonment” in 2023. Attempting to reuse a stamp is technically an act of fraud against the U.S. government, therefore harsh penalties should come as no surprise.
To learn what happens if you get caught reusing a stamp, if stamps are actually traceable now, and how USPS knows if a stamp has been used before, keep going!
How Does USPS Know If a Stamp Has Been Used?
The first thing that tips off the Postal Service that a stamp is being reused is any signs of “cancellation” to the stamps.
A stamp that has been canceled simply bears a postmark that says it has been processed and the value of its postage has been used.
Sometimes stamps miss their cancellation, and so people will try and reuse those most often.
However, you might be tempted if you see the cancellation is super faded or light, or it hardly touches the stamp.
Many actions in the Post Office are now automated, using machines, and while they certainly get the job done – sorting, etc. – they obviously lack the human touch.
That would be the ability to actually see if something looks off about a stamp.
On the off chance that someone does notice something amiss, it could be a number of things.
- Any cancellation postmark that might appear on the stamp (even faint or off-center)
- A stamp that appears to be ready to fall off
- A stamp that does fall off, to reveal glue or tape on the back
- A stamp that is taped over
As you can see, the criteria that Postal Workers might notice can be rather minute, and machines might not notice at all unless the stamp has fully fallen off.
What Happens If You Get Caught Reusing a Stamp?
As I have shown in the above section, there stands a chance you can get away with reusing stamps.
However, if you’re not an expert at this sort of thing, and you start to try and make a habit of it, you will likely get caught.
And what happens then?
Your correspondence will be returned to you, possibly with a note or rubber stamp that admonishes you to pay (it may simply say “insufficient postage”).
If you continue with the behavior and the Postal Service starts to notice that they are sending a handful of envelopes with reused stamps back to you, things could get more serious.
The Postal Service’s own handbook suggests that fines and even imprisonment could be on the table.
Consider this: USPS is an independent agency of the Executive branch of government (the same one as the office of the President).
By committing what amounts to theft and fraud against the Postal Service, you are committing a crime against the federal government.
So yes, they are going to hand down fines and jail time to severe offenders.
One minor infraction of stamp reuse isn’t likely going to get a U.S. attorney on your case.
However, a systematic exploitation of already-used postage being reapplied and used to send mail or sold to unsuspecting citizens very well could result in such action.
Do You Get in Trouble for Reusing Stamps?
As I mentioned above, one small incident where you tried to reuse a stamp that looked uncancelled (despite being so) isn’t likely going to cause a lot of kerfluffle with law enforcement.
But regular criminal activity revolving around the reuse of stamps, or the demarking and resale of canceled stamps, is where the Postal Inspector is going to start pressing charges.
You don’t have to go to the Post Office to buy stamps; you can actually purchase them online at the USPS.com Postal Store.
Or, try asking your mail carrier if they have any they could sell you; they do tend to carry them on their person or in their truck as a convenience for customers.
Are Stamps Traceable?
According to our research, stamps issued by the USPS are not currently traceable.
There are no minuscule barcodes or other sophisticated tracing tools hidden in stamps, though one enterprising Redditor took it upon themselves to investigate a sheet of stamps.
They put the sheet under a microscope and did report seeing some non-randomized faintly printed symbols.
But those could be related more to authentication, versus tracing.
The Postal Service has also received a suggestion from a House representative on the Committee of Government Reform.
Henry A. Waxman (D-California) pitched the idea of a “two-dimensional barcode ‘stamp’ that would contain the sender’s identity, as well as the date, time, and place postage, was paid.”
Is such a move likely? Not in the near future, in our estimation, since the Postal Service – which receives no taxpayer money – hasn’t been solvent in over a decade.
Can You Put Tape Over a Stamp?
Aside from making your stamp look really suspicious, tape over a stamp actually invalidates postage.
The USPS suggests glue before tape, for wayward stamps that are new/unused but have somehow lost their stickiness.
To know more, you can also read our posts on whether or not USPS buys back unused stamps, stamps 70-cent stamps, and USPS stamp types.
Reusing stamps is illegal, and if the offense is on a large enough scale, could result in hefty fines and imprisonment.
Most small-scale infractions may simply see mail being returned and the sender admonished to purchase new postage. This can be obtained at any Post Office location, online, or even, in some cases, from your postal carrier.