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February 2021


  Spate of forged AP stamps/satchels etc


The Australian Federal Police have been active in arresting persons accused of forging Australia Post postage stamps and Express and Parcel Post satchels, coast to coast. This is a crime on the rise globally, and lots of short sighted folks buy this material cheap off ebay etc, and risk prosecution themselves.  The end USERS are committing a crime as well.  

A Dianella, Western Australia man was arrested latter 2020 in the photo nearby.  Named in the West Australian newspaper report as 55 year old Dianella “Bouncy Castle” business owner James Balcombe, he was charged with forging mint current postage stamps, and is shown being arrested at his home and being manhandled, and handcuffed, to a Police Van.


WA man James Balcombe being arrested.


The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have alleged the 55-year-old manufactured the counterfeit stamps, and used them to provide free postage and handling when sending goods to customers of his online sticker business.  AFP officers, with the assistance of Australia Post, seized fake stamps and a high-end printer, allegedly used for counterfeiting, when they executed a search warrant at the man’s Dianella home.

Investigators also seized identity documents and credit cards in other people’s names, two unlicensed firearms, and two prohibited flick knives. The man has been charged with one count of forging a postage stamp, contrary to section 85G(1) of the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914.  He faces a potential 10 years’ imprisonment if convicted of the offence.  Enquiries are ongoing into the weapons, and other items seized by police.

The AFP began investigating last year, after Australia Post staff intercepted hundreds of mail items bearing forged stamps. Police say the forgeries were of a high quality, with perforated edges on the stamps.  However, vigilant Australia Post staff noticed inconsistencies in stamps going through the mail network and seized hundreds of suspect items.


“Creating an unfair playing field”


“We will allege this man was forging stamps to create a financial advantage for himself,”  AFP Detective Superintendent David Berston said. “He was able to entice customers to his business and away from his competitors because the free postage made his products cheaper, creating an unfair playing field” he continued.

“We also allege this conduct put his customers at risk of not receiving the goods they purchased in good faith, with Australia Post needing to intercept and hold hundreds of mail items that had counterfeit stamps. This crime also siphons money away from Australian taxpayers, because Australia Post is owned by the Commonwealth Government.”
  Berston concluded.

Approximately 680 mail items bearing these alleged fake stamps, valued at approximately $2,300 face value, were detected by the Australia Post mail Centre operations, but it is unknown how many items with forged stamps had been sent out in the past by Mr. Balcombe.  The crooks do not realise the genuine AP stamps have ‘’tagging’’ that is detected in the high-tech mail sorting equipment these days!


Married couple in $A2+ million dollar scam.


Meanwhile across the country in Sydney, a married couple appeared in court in December, charged over an alleged $2 million fake Australia Post satchel scam.  Just a year after their flashy wedding, when they zoomed away in a pricey Maserati sports car, Damien Steven Butler, 30, and wife Dannielle, allegedly took part in a huge Australia Post parcel satchel scam.

The married couple have been accused of being part in a syndicate which allegedly imported about 2.3 tons of counterfeit pre-paid Australia Post parcel satchels.  Damien Steven Butler, 30, and three others were charged in July 2020, after allegedly ordering tons of the fake Express Post and Parcel Post packages made in China, and selling them on ebay between September 2018, and June 2019.


2.3 TON of counterfeit PO satchels.


The criminal operation cost Australia Post a stated $2 million in lost revenue, the Australian Federal Police allege. (Doubtless many times that.)  Mr Butler was charged with dealing with the proceeds of crime in excess of $100,000, and causing loss to a Commonwealth entity.  Now his wife Dannielle, 28, has become the fifth person charged over the alleged criminal enterprise, for the same offences.

The couple from Rossmore in western Sydney, had married in an extravagant wedding in May 2019 before leaving the ceremony in a luxury Maserati sports car - doubtless funded by this 7 figure fraud.  One of the couple's co-accused in these alleged crimes, Brody Levi Cooper had been a groomsman at their wedding.  They seemed to have enjoyed dressing up in Super Hero costumes.

The offence of dealing with the proceeds of crime valued at more than $100,000 carries with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in jail if proven, while causing loss to a Commonwealth entity had a maximum of 10 years.  Police allege her husband's fraud alone cost Australia Post approximately $478,000.


Pay just ONE cent each from China.

  The Australian Federal Police charged four people in July 2020 from the alleged criminal syndicate selling fake Australia Post Express Post and pre-paid parcel parcels.  Their first court hearing was in December, 2020.  The case against the five accused will return to Parramatta Local Court in January 2021, and hopefully we will a have a prison sentence(s) to report here next month  

WE are the clear losers here.


These sellers do one sale through FakeBay, get the contact details of the dopey buyers, and pump them endless repeat orders totally under the radar with no fees.  So if $A2 million of ebay sales have been traced, you can BET ten times more was actually sold.  The LOSERS are of course legitimate mail users like you and me, who all pay HIGHER fees to subsidise the millions of parcels that AP cheerfully deliver using forged or stolen satchels.

AP and the Feds have known about this for years, and grind along at a snail's pace as the time lines show.  FakeBay has been flooded with them for years, and nothing much happens in there of course, as eBay make money from it all, fakes or genuine.  They do not give a hoot.  This stuff has been netting sellers far LESS per piece after ebay fees, than Post Offices pay “wholesale'' for it - and the geniuses at AP have taken several years to wake up to that simple fiscal reality.


500 MILLION pieces a month!

  How any sellers can be peddling many 1000s of units a month - for years, and getting less than AP sells them for wholesale to LPOs, is not Einstein stuff to figure out, and act upon!  Anyway, lots of charges have just been laid across this country, and hopefully some serious prison sentences ensue, as a warning to others to use only LEGITIMATE PO products.  

Devise a unique number system!


The Orange Registered labels here cost about $A4 each, and the parcel and Express satchels are into double figures, so it is not rocket science to set, and only accept, codes that are unique, and not easily crackable.  Sender gets caught on the spot, and THEN the Feds get from him info on who sold him the fakes, and this is nipped in the bud.

Serve notice on eBay that they have a role to play as well.  It is clearly IMPOSSIBLE for these to be sold below LPO cost price in vast numbers - if legitimate.  I got this Registered letter shown nearby and it shows the correct style of label.  If they cannot make TWENTY FIVE Alpha/Numeric combos, combined with a unique central QR codes, 100% secure, they need to sack the team involved, and get in new ones.  It is DEAD simple to do.

Australia Post seem too focused on handing out free $10,000 Gold Cartier watches to all the big shots, and back slapping, instead of getting them working on stemming $20-$50 million or so of red ink losses from clear fakes, for which no-one in there can work out a secure number system for tracked products.  It is pure Monty Python stuff.


Surely 25 Letter/Numbers can be unique?


So does anyone think the current criminal charges and the possibly TWENTY year prison terms will deter future spivs on Ebay?  Sadly, not on your life.  I saw a site selling apparent mint Australia stamps for postage at a low % of face value. In huge quantities.   And stupidly offering stamps in peel and stick rolls that were never issued that way etc by Australia Post.  Durrrrh.

As I reported in a column a year or so back, this material can be ordered from Alibaba online site in China for as low as ONE CENT apiece in bulk buys of 20,000 pieces.  The satchels were still on offer the day I typed this, on the giant Alibaba site, being described thus, and using the photos shown nearby  - "Custom 500G - 3Kg Packaging Colored Red Yellow - Australia Parcel Postage Satchel - Express Post Satchels - Shipping Mailing Poly Mailers"

Remember that the lookalike images they show today on the web you see here are to try and deter the Feds.  What was imported in the 2.3 ton shipment can be seen on the AFP seizure images and video - have the EXACT appearance as artwork as the current PO designs.  All with full tracking and scanning QR code boxes etc, and serial numbers and tear off tabs etc.  $20 value for 1c.  Nice work.


Alibaba - a den of thieves?


The Feds must be totally asleep at the wheel for not closing these sources down.  The current listing for these on Alibaba China is   Feds seized 2.3 TON of them in the current court hearings.  Australia Post too, must be dozing off as usual - SURELY they can devise unique number sequences that means hackers cannot replicate them?  Cannot be rocket science.                      


Use these, and YOU could go to prison.


The dopes who buy this stuff on eBay etc, and turn up at a PO and get told all their stamps/envelopes are invalid and forged, and PO Security will be in contact, is the way to stop this DEAD!  Or when the lack of proper “tagging” is detected at mail centres on the totally forged stamps, you will get sprung for sure.

The other common ebay scam of course here and overseas, is selling 1000’s of NO GUM genuine stamps, that have been soaked off kiloware etc, that were not originally cancelled, or were cancelled, and those cancels have been bleached off - a simple home kitchen project.  Getting $700 per 1000 pieces tax-free is a nice week’s wages, and makes this a widespread cottage industry.  In the UK, prison sentences were recently handed down for that, as reported here.

Most stamp dealers globally do good business selling parcels of mint full gum GENUINE stamps for well under face for postage, and they sell well.  I mostly do packets of $1,000 face for $A750, and I make a few bucks, and the buyers also save $250 LEGALLY!  I get streams of material from Estates, mint block collections and so on, PO packs and albums and booklets, so it works out well.


MAKE money using savvy frankings!


Armies of folks are running eBay mail order type businesses from home in these COVID days, and posting out things that cost many $$’s a sending.  If a packet costs $20 to mail, charge the client $25 “post and pack” and if those $20 of stamps on parcel come from a dealer at $15 cost, you MAKE an extra $10 profit on each parcel - more profit than you make on the goods inside, in very many cases!  

Often those eBay buyers leave glowing feedback - “really pretty stamps used on package” etc.  Oddly, most non-collectors really ENJOY getting a range of real stamps, in this era of worthless white labels, and plastic pre-paid mailing bags!  Post Offices these days here seldom stock any stamps other than the current boring $1.10 base value, so having a selection of older REAL stamps on hand, in full sets is pretty savvy.  AND saves you 25%.


Using intelligent franking is EASY!


EVERY reader of this article, globally, hopefully uses only attractive STAMPS on ALL their mailings, and anyone that uses a plastic pre-paid bag to me, or a worthless PO white label, when I am paying the postage, hears about it long and hard and forcefully - and I hope all buyers take such a firm stand on that.  NO excuse at all for not using stamps among us.

The used se-tenant strips 5 shown nearby I used on a client parcel.  Older issues of course, but retail value even when USED is a ton more than the $A15 face value, and my PO generally uses neat cds cancels like these if asked nicely.  So a no brainer really for the buyer, and the seller, who has clients who appreciate it.  Many buyers regularly add images of their frankings from me here -

Often heavy domestic parcels of stockbooks or Hagners or albums etc are $50 a parcel these days, and overseas are often more like $100, and I know many clients choose to order off me if goods price is around the same.  Getting $50 or $100 of neat cancelled, philatelically valuable franking, is really a deal breaker on heavier sendings.  Buyers often sell the $50 frankings on ebay etc for more than they paid! 

Every country has real stamp dealers who offer legal franking like that under face from collections etc, and it is well worth looking into buying a little of it for your stamp den, if you send a bit of mail.  Post Offices do not have it any more, and taking in your mail cleverly pre-franked, they will cancel it for you.  A nice full set of commemoratives is just as easy to use on mail, as a worthless $5 or $10 definitive etc. 


28 Cover set for 50 Years of FDC


Australia Post comes up with some nice visual surprises at times, and their art department I must say really is top class, producing some stunning material. They have been consistently good in my view for decades, and I am sure the faces in there change often, but the creative ideas and great designs continue.  A very recent issue is shown nearby, that almost no-one seems to have heard about.


Still a $300 cover today, PO unaddressed.


“Australia Fifty Years of FDC” was a special Gold Foil Postmark numbered Limited Edition of 150 sets, of *28* different covers, with 28 different stamp issues.  The Official Australia PO Decimal FDC’s were first introduced in 1970.  The early ones were largely ignored by collectors, and sold in tiny numbers, and I sold a 1970 30c Captain Cook only this month for $A300, see image nearby  - they are still scarce and popular, with high catalogue value.

This new collection comprises 28 special covers, that feature a selection of stamps from 2020, and all 28 covers feature a special and rather attractive Metallic Gold Foiled postmark.  Face values of the stamps run up to $3.30 each.  Covers come with a classy matching artwork band encasing them, to the cover cachet design, also in a classy gold look. 

The UNIQUE Train/Railway 1970-2020 se-tenant mini-sheet is clearly a key piece on its own, being a popular TRAIN topical, and limited to a really minuscule 150 numbered pieces globally.  The 5c Standard Gauge Train is the exact 1970 issue, from the year the PO started making cacheted Decimal era FDCs. 


A PO FDC, Limited to 150!


The cancel on the Train Sheet is certainly the First Day Issue of that, as the only way it ever occurred was in this set.  These sets of 28 sold out very fast at Australia Post at the high asking price, and most collectors globally had no idea these existed.  Even to the leading FDC collectors here - two of whom bought sets off me this week.


One of a Numbered Edition of 150.


Serious stamp collectors need these too - as buying this cover is the ONLY way to source this unique and unheralded Miniature Sheet.  I bought a few sets 28 as it was a no-brainer they’d be highly sought after, once collectors heard about them.  They are still only a few dollars apiece, and would be a brilliant ebay seller group to split up into 28 numbered lots singly - will do very well I think, as are loaded with topicals etc.

A very pretty set I am sure you’ll agree, but the gold foil metallic cancels on them do not flat-bed scan well - I tried to take one with my camera to try and capture the metallic shimmer of it all.  Did not quite work out sadly!  Anyway, something a bit different and interesting, and at 28 different in the numbered set, will near fill a FDC album on its own.

Hard to believe it is FIFTY years since the Post Office started making official decimal era stamp FDC’s.  I remember as a kid in high school going to buy the 1970 Captain Cook, and I also had the savvy to cut up a mini sheet, and affixed the 6 imperf singles to one.  That one is long gone - should have kept it - have never ever, seen another!


Prettiest Stamp Design Ever?


All readers of this article have their own personal views on the most attractive stamp designs of all time.  Oddly, most polls I have read on that topic have voted on pre-war steel engraved recess printed stamps etc - I do not recall any offset printed modern stamps ever being among them!  I guess that says a lot.


Scottish cattle, NOT American Cattle!


One stamp that routinely scores well in any collector polls of the most attractive stamp design of all time, is the USA Scott #292 - the 1898 $1 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, which was held in Omaha Nebraska of all places.  A mint example is illustrated nearby.  Very pretty I agree.

Issue date of these stamps was June 17, 1898, and the number issued to Post Offices was only 56,900 - and of that truly tiny number, (WAY less than the 5/- Sydney Harbour Bridge) an unknown quantity were later officially destroyed by USPS as unsolds.  For the USA that really is a tiny number, and it WHY it is expensive today.

These truly superb looking stamps were printed by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and supplied to Post Office in sheets of 100 subjects, trimmed flat on one or two all sides, so many “straight edge” copies existed, many are now re-perforated of course.  The stamp had the usual double-line watermark “USPS”, and all were perforated 12.

This $1 Trans-Mississippi Exposition commemorative stamp design pictures a rugged bull leading a herd of cattle through a heavy snowstorm.  Although the series was intended to portray iconic scenes from the American West, the design is based on a painting by Scottish artist James MacWhirter, entitled “The Vanguard.”  That original painting is shown nearby.


CALLENDAR not Calender!


It was painted by MacWhirter in 1887, in a small farmhouse near the Scottish town of Callendar, (not “Calender” as American sources incorrectly refer to it as) so the scene is actually of Scottish cattle in the central Highlands of Scotland.  So much for being iconic cowboy American, “Yankee Doodle” open plains cattle of the western plains!


Painted North SCOTLAND, not North Dakota!


The work of art had been used in advertisements for an American cattle company, who used it widely without permission.  After the stamp was printed, USPS officials learned with horror that the painting was the property of British Lord Blythswood.  An official apology was issued through the offices of the British Ambassador, and it appears all were satisfied with the outcome.

The $1 Trans-Mississippi stamp was designed by Raymond Ostrander Smith, the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s chief staff designer, who also was responsible for the equally pretty 1901 Pan American set 6, and the superb Newfoundland John Cabot set 14 of 1897.  The $1 Cattle stamp features the same outer border as the rest of the values of the set. 

Unlike the long and massive face value 1893 Columbian series, the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition commemorative stamps did not include the name or dates of the event being commemorated.  Instead, each stamp features a caption with the name of the photograph or the (alleged!) painting upon which the design is based.

Stamp collectors weren’t concerned with the accuracy of the design. “Western Cattle in Storm” is often referred to as the most beautiful stamp ever issued by the USA.  Especially in USA based polls!  In addition to being visually appealing, the stamp is also quite expensive of course, and mint or used copies cost quite serious money as we know.  


Spanish War meant monocolour used.


The Trans-Mississippi commemorative stamps were printed by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington.  The original plans called for the full series to be printed in bi-color.  A red frame, with a black vignette (i.e. central design) was planned for the $1 “Western Cattle in Storm” stamp. Original plate proofs exist of these.


 “USS MAINE” Revenues strained resources.


However, the Spanish-American War from April to December 1898 strained the resources of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which was overburdened by the demand for revenue stamps to fund the war.  The Trans-Mississippi commemoratives were hence printed in a single color to save money and time, with the $1 denomination printed in black ink.

After the tumultuous Civil War ended in 1865, the USA was nearly broke.  To provide funding for the 1898 Spanish-American War, Congress authorised taxes on a wide range of goods and services.  These included various alcohol and tobacco products, tea, and other amusements.  New Taxes were also added to various legal and business transactions - such as Stock Certificates, bills of lading, manifests, and marine insurance etc. 

The sunken “USS Maine” then at the bottom of Havana Harbour, featured on 12 of these USA revenue stamps, issued in different colours and values, to raise the War Tax basically, and I am certain every kid’s stamp album on this planet had at least one these Maine stamps proudly affixed inside!  To this day, they remain cheap, so mega millions or billions must have been sold.  

To pay these tax duties, the revenue tax stamps were purchased and affixed to the taxable item, or a respective certificate.  There are 12 stamps in this "1898 USS Maine" ship issue, which occur in denominations ranging from ½c to 80c, and printed on double lined watermarked paper. Two types of perforations were used - rouletted, and 'hyphen' shaped perforations. 


Only 56,000 stamps printed!


The entire printing run of the $1 Omaha stamp lasted only three days from June 1-3, 1898.  There are no significant plate varieties or shades.  Fully 20% of all the 56,900 stamps printed, featured one or more straight edges, (most now re-perforated!) leaving a maximum 45,520 copies sold with original perforations on all four sides.  Indeed, far less, since we know many unsold stamps were destroyed.

The 1898 “Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition” was held to further the progress and development of natural resources west of the Mississippi River.  Held in Omaha, Nebraska, the exposition opened on June 1, 1898, and ran for four months. 

The Expo was not a financial success overall it is recorded, but it did revitalize Omaha Nebraska, a city that had been devastated by drought and depression. Over 2.6 million people attended this 1898 Omaha Exposition during the four months it was open.


A century on, USS Maine STILL remembered!


Graphic re-enactments at this long Expo, of the explosion and sinking of the battleship Maine during that year 1898, in Havana Harbour, also fuelled patriotism, and gathered further general public support for the Spanish-American War that was still raging of course during this Expo. 

The result of this War - the 1898 Treaty Of Paris, was negotiated on terms very favourable to the USA, which allowed it temporary Military Government in Cuba.  The Treaty totally ceded ownership of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain to the USA.  Spain’s once mighty global Empire was essentially gone in one Treaty.

"Remember the Maine - To Hell with Spain!" became a popular chant in the USA in 1898.  Mainly due to a few media barons actively suggesting the Spanish had mined the ship.  It now seems clear that the bituminous coal used to power Maine was known for releasing firedamp, a gas that is prone to spontaneous explosions.  So, it seems likely the Maine’s gases ignited the ammunition magazine internally, and it self-destructed.


Cuba still an issue of course.


The “USS Maine” sank in Havana Harbour in Cuba, and as outlined above, that largely led to Spain losing control of the island of Cuba. 123 years on, the diplomatic situation is still strained despite President Obama vowing to “normalise” relations during his Presidency.  Even with Castro passing when he took charge, to make things smoother still, it was no surprise to see Donald Trump reneging on all that tide of common sense.

US Foreign Policy in the past 4 years seemed to vary each day, based on how much Fox News Trump watched each morning.  And upon whom he had left on staff that week to consult with, and to Tweet out the new version, until it was back-flipped or reneged on by the Press Office, or totally denied days later!  Anyway 4 years of madness is at an end, and let’s see if Cuba relations thaw once again under Biden.







"KNOWLEDGE IS POWER"  as I type incessantly -  I cannot over-stress the importance of having a solid library.  Often the very FIRST thing you look up, often pays for that book forever!  A number of wonderful reference books have appeared in recent times.  In many cases within Australia under the new parcel rules, buying 2 or 3 books costs the EXACT same shipping as ONE does, so do give it some thought!   Within NSW, 10 books costs about the same shipping as 1 book etc!  (Superb VFU, valuable franking used on ALL parcels as always.)  ALL in stock now - click on each link for FULL details of each book.  Hint for these as GIFTS!  Buy FIVE or more, and deduct 10% OFF THE LOT!  Glen


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The Arthur Gray "KGV Reign" Collection, Superb hard bound leather Catalogue just $A65 (Stock 368WF)
500 page ACSC New “Australia KGV Reign” catalogue in Full Colour - just  $A170 (Stock 382KX)





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