Many people try to mail things for free. There have been all sorts of attempts; cancelled stamps, less postage, no stamp (oops! it fell off I guess), postmarking an unstamped letter to it's destination, and other scams attempted by poor and smart college students. I used to work in the receiving room for my university, and dealt with the Post Office a lot. I have seen many things come off that little white truck, in many different conditions.

Why these and other attempts will usually won't work:
  • The items are postmarked for where they came from. Usually places will turn a raised eyebrow to people sending things across state lines.
  • A lot of items are scanned by machine for postage. The Post Office, from what I have heard, does most of it's scanning by hand. Therefore people don't actually look at the letter until something has gone through there. If the scanner misses something, then it won't show up.
  • Stamps aren't lick and stick anymore: Almost all stamps (on all domestic items, at least) are self-adhesive. This means they are considerably less likely to be licked incorrectly, and thus likely to fall off (although during the initial run of self-adhesive stamps, many fell off due to people licking them).
Why this has, and will continue to work:
  • The post office is run by people: Because people generally give people the benefit of the doubt, the mail will generally go through, unless they are cracking down on mail fraud, or near a stamp price change, when they are looking for the stamps in particular. Near a (my) college for instance, you will see them all get returned, because they are wise to students being generally fraudulent little bastards. We used to get many mails returned (phone bills and the like) due to no stamp. People usually forgot, but I'd bet more than few tried to defraud. In a small rural setting, a lot of postal people would let your letter to grandma slide if the stamp "fell off".


A few years back, Channel 3, a new station very much into investigative reports sent ten letters to random people from random addresses with one cent stamps. Nine out of ten made it with no problem, the other went with a "postage due" distinction crossed out on the back. Of course the Post Office was unavailable for comment, but it just goes to show that people can be human, and simply don't expect other people to be fraudulent.

The problem with taking advantage of the system makes them tighten it up for people who honestly make mistakes (as simple as forgetting a stamp, or as complex as licking a self-adhesive one). There are other ways to get around postage, such as have your workplace meter it, or what not. Then again, paying the 34 cents (or 50 at a machine) really isn't that bad, is it?

Mail fraud is a Federal crime, and carries a term of no more than five years, and no more than a $1,000 fine.

neil has informed me that the applicable postage laws for fraud are USC 1341, 1346, and possibly 1725, and that the above sentence is a tad harsh for this form of petty postal fraud.
If you're one of those peel off that stamp with no apparent postmark so it can be re-used people, it will eventually get you in serious trouble.

Some of the automated machines use a non-visible postmark ink for the stamps. During the pre-sort, some of the mail gets run through the sorter, which separates the mail by zip and looks for cancelled stamps. Not all of the mail gets run through the process, but in major metropolitan areas you can rest assured they pre-sort. Sometimes they sort out the fraudulent stamps and send it to the Postal Inspector, who follows up. They log where it came from and the destination. When they have enough evidence of fraud, or if they wish to make an example of someone, they go have a nice chat, mentioning things like fraud, felony, jailtime and other enjoyable catchphrases.

You take your chances if you do it often. I know of one person in an insurance office who peeled off the stamps and used them for personal use. When the government visited the office, he was fired and had to pay a fine (which is hard to do when you're now jobless). It isn't worth the 34 cents (in the US) to get screwed.

This is almost too easy:

Join the military.

Go to war.

Write "free" in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope.

Mail it.

Everything sent from a combat zone goes free.

Except your ass.

Here in Canada, and also in the USA, one can send any quantity of materials for the blind, be it literature in braille, or text-reading devices, or (I believe) medical supplies.

When I worked at Canada Post in the wintertime, there was quite a lot of stuff sent from doctors to indivduals under the heading "materials for the blind". So, the lesson in this is to blind everyone to whom you intend to send mail, to be sure to write to them in braille to avoid fraudulent activity, and to acquire those handy little stickers that replace the stamp.

Another trick could be to work at Canada Post in the wintertime, and to drop mail in the delivery bins directly, but this is very risky. It is even illegal when working there to pick out mail destined to you if you should come across it.

Other ways (that I have just brainstormed) to use the Postal Service for free:

This last is free, but it is free for them.

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