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UK post card scam

Apparently lots of people who still like post cards for friends and family are falling for this, as we did. DO NOT purchase and use post card stamps in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK from gift shops or other tourist venues unless you are SURE they are proper Royal Mail stamps, which are better procured from a real post office. Apparently a company called "Universal Mail" has obtained the right to sell "stamps" that are technically valid for international post cards dropped into a letter box, but if you use them, your cards will be diverted to this company's terrible service rather than the actual post office, and they will actually send your cards by way of the Philippines, and if any arrive at all (which few of ours did), it will be months later. The shop won't tell you this when you buy these proper-looking, in fact attractive and colorful, stamps, and who would it occur to that all postage stamps are not equal? But in the UK they sure aren't!

Posted by
5950 posts

yes, there's a whole thread on this from earlier this fall.

Posted by
1742 posts

I bought post cards and those Universal Mail stamps in a London gift shop and mailed them in September; some of my friends just received theirs this week! 7 weeks later. On this same trip, I mailed cards from Dublin and they arrived about 10 days later, apparently they were official stamps. Universal Mail should be required to disclose they are a private mail service so the tourist can decide whether to purchase or not. Annoying.

Posted by
2491 posts

calling it a scam is a bit strong, ok it is an alternative service which is not as good as the stardard postal service but unless they were charging astronomical prices it is hardly a scam.

Posted by
24872 posts

Is the Queen's head on the stamp? No? Not a Royal Mail stamp.

Posted by
12158 posts

I did notice that in every souvenir shop where I bought postcards during my October trip, last month, to London I was asked if I wanted stamps, the answer was always no, since there is a post office right across from Kings Cross, which is ca 3 mins from my B&B. That post office was there in 1971 and it's still operating. My post cards all arrived within the normal time span, 5-7 days.

Posted by
16817 posts

Italy also has a private mailing service that advertises directly to tourists at shops and confuses many of them. In that case, the postcards can't be dropped in regular Poste Italiane mailboxes, but only the company's own mailboxes. While we expect a variety of carriers to handle parcels, I don't think that American travelers, at least, expect "service options" for mailing postcards. If they're not familiar with national post office logos, they won't readily notice the difference.

Posted by
24 posts

OP here to respond to the person from Scotland who thinks it's a bit strong to call it a scam because it didn't involve large amounts of money. True, the amount is not huge, but not insignificant either -- more than 1 pound per card for the non-stamps, plus the wasted cost of the card (at least 50 p each), x a couple dozen cards we thought we had properly mailed, is at least 50 pounds wasted. And not just the out of pocket cost, but the wasted time and effort to write all those cards that never arrived (well, a couple did months later, but that's it). Multiply this by the many people this scheme obviously burns each week or month, and it's a pretty large scam indeed. Not a huge thing in the overall scope of a trip to Scotland which was otherwise great, but it did leave a bad taste in the mouth. Little things do matter. It is indeed a scam, a nasty little bit of trickery, which is exactly the kind of thing this page is here to alert people to (hence the title, "tourist scams"), and a particularly ironic one in the country that invented the postage stamp.

Posted by
18147 posts

I stumbled on the same situation in Italy, which Laura alludes to in her post. My postcards did arrive in reasonable time, luckily, but I think the stamps were overpriced.

My beef is with the little shop holders, who are probably getting significant commissions for selling those stamps. They must surely know by now that the service provided (at least in the UK) is quite poor. They are placing their pocketbooks ahead of customer service.

There was a time (it may still be true) that places like Hallmark stores in the US had small stamp-vending machines. The prices were far higher than you paid in the post office (perhaps 50c for a single stamp back when postage cost about 30c), but they were regular stamps entitling you to regular mail service. I don't blame businessmen for making sure their costs are covered. It's unfair to expect a postcard vendor to sell postage stamps at face value when it takes time to do so--unless the local postal agency provides the stamps at a discount.

Posted by
12158 posts

The postage for a post card to the US by air mail ( I always ask for stickers) is 1.17 GBP, expensive compared to Germany's 90 cents. Why do tourists fall for this whatever you label it? I didn't. One reason was I don't like the look of that generic stamp, another reason is it always is a habit of mine to get stamps from a post office, not from a souvenir shop when it is offered to you.

Posted by
4514 posts

Sending of international post cards is relatively expensive via the Royal Mail, thus gives other operators such as Universal Mail some room to make money effectively by batching them up and sending them in bulk to countries with much lower rates, known as reposting. This varies from month to month; it seems to have been the Philippines for quite a while over the summer, but before that it was Hungary.

The delay comes not only from the long trips that the cards make, but the waiting in a warehouse somewhere until a batch quantity has been reached.

The attractions that sell their stamps no doubt make something out of it, but are also offering a convenience service. UM also make their money from stamps bought but not used being retained as souvenirs of the place visited.

The stamps aren't valid on inland postage, so the shops will probably also sell Royal Mail 1st and 2nd class stamps. The answer maybe for someone who doesn't want to search out a Post Office is to buy these instead, and put one of each on the postcard. This is a few pence over the international rate, but maybe worth the convenience.

Posted by
630 posts

Slate, thank you for posting this topic as I wouldn't have know about it. I will now buy my postage directly from a post office when I travel. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
440 posts

Just pop into a post office if you can find one and ask at the counter to send to USA for example and they will work out the correct postage for you and it should arrive within a few days.