People are being warned to watch out for fraudulent Royal Mail stamps, as customers risk being fined £5 per letter for using counterfeit first and second class stamps.

The Daily Telegraph reported that sources close to Royal Mail said fakes from China were causing a rise in complaints that stamps bought from legitimate stores were being deemed fraudulent.

The newspaper identified four Chinese suppliers offering to print up to one million counterfeit Royal Mail stamps a week. These stamps are being sold for as little as 4p each ahead of delivery to Britain.

The fakes have also been found on Amazon and eBay and websites copying the Royal Mail official store, the newspaper said.

The Telegraph understands these stamps are being bought unknowingly by small retailers, who are allowed to buy stamps from wholesalers rather than from Royal Mail directly.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told the Daily Mail: “It is key to prevent counterfeit stamps entering our supply chain in the UK.

“The Royal Mail must do everything possible to prevent counterfeits entering our circulation and must establish where they are coming from and how they are entering our marketplace.”

The Times reported that a spokesman from the Chinese Embassy in London called the claims “absurd”.

He said: “It is totally ridiculous, absurd and ill-intentional. How could one imagine a sovereign country triggers war by bringing fake stamps?

“If this case really happened, (the) first thing to do is to have (a) thorough investigation over the internal supply chain, instead of pursuing the attention of (the) media.”

To help Royal Mail customers avoid being scammed and fined, Postal expert and Manager of Hopewiser Matthew Good has provided his expert advice on identifying counterfeit stamps and tips for buying genuine ones:

“Counterfeit Royal Mail stamps are often purchased unknowingly by small retailers who can source these forgeries from wholesalers rather than directly from Royal Mail. They can also be sold through major online retailers like eBay as well as fraudulent websites that closely resemble the official Royal Mail store

However, Royal Mail customers are significantly impacted by this, as the postal service is fining people who use these forgeries £5 despite being victims of these scams. While these penalties continue, there are several ways that customers can prevent themselves from becoming victims of this scam:”

How to Spot Counterfeit Royal Mail Stamps

Unusual Shiny Surface

“To make sure your stamp is authentic, hold it up to the light and examine it for Royal Mail lettering that runs over the lettering in a wave-like pattern. A genuine stamp will have a subtle sheen, with the barcode section shinier than the head. If the stamp appears overly glossy, it might be counterfeit.”

Closely Inspect the Perforations

“Check the stamps for square-like perforations around the border, which shows that it is genuine and produced by Cartor Security Printers. Counterfeit ones may have sharper or spikier edges. Differentiating between the two can be challenging.”

Security Ovals

“Along with a barcode, Royal Mail stamps include two ovals as part of their security features. While counterfeit stamps may try to replicate this feature to convince shoppers, the finer details matter. A genuine first-class stamp will include a Roman numeral ‘I’ that fits entirely in the bottom left oval and the oval in the bottom right should align with the top of King Charles’ neck.”

Look For Turquoise FSC Logo

“Royal Mail introduced a purple colour scheme for first-class stamps in 2022, making them unique as the only postal service using a purple barcode. If you are buying a sheet of stamps, look for the FSC certification logo and barcode, which should be a turquoise colour - some counterfeiters mistakenly colour these two purple with the rest of the stamp.”