I may never receive another piece of mail, but I have to let you in on a secret: It's possible to
send letters for free or for well below current postage rates. Information on beating the postal
system has been floating around for decades, but it wasn't gathered in one place until outlaw
publisher Loompanics put forth How To Screw the Post Office by "Mr. Unzip" in 2000.
Not content to theorize from an ivory tower, Unzip put these methods
through the ultimate real-world test: He mailed letters. He also
examined the envelopes in which hundreds upon hundreds of
customers had paid their utility bills. Based on this, he offers proof
that letters with insufficient postage often make it to their destinations.
The key is that the machines which scan for stamps work incredibly
fast, processing ten letters per second. They're also fairly
unsophisticated in their detection methods, relying mainly on stamps'
glossy coating as a signal. Because of this, it's possible to successfully
use lower-rate stamps, including outdated stamps, postcard stamps,
and even 1-cent stamps. Beyond that, Unzip successfully sent letters
affixed with only the perforated edges from a block of stamps. Even
those pseudostamps sent by charities like Easter Seals or environ-mental groups can fool the
Another approach is to cut stamps in half, using each portion as full postage. Not only does this
give you two stamps for the price of one, but you can often salvage the uncancelled portion of
stamps on letters you receive. In fact, the author shows that sometimes the Post Office processes
stamps that have already been fully cancelled. This happens more often when the ink is light, but
even dark cancellation marks aren't necessarily a deal-breaker.
Then there's the biggie, the Post Office's atomic secret that lets you mail letters for free. Say
you're sending a letter to dear old mom. Simply put mom's address as the return address. Then
write your address in the center of the envelope, where you'd normally put hers. Forget about the
stamp. The letter will be "returned" to her for insufficient postage.
Unzip covers further techniques involving stamp positioning, metered mail, 2-cent stamps, and
other tricks. Except perhaps for the reversed address scam, none of these tricks will guarantee
your missive gets to its destination, so you wouldn't want to try them with important letters. But
if you want to save a few cents once in a while — or more likely, you want to have fun hacking
the postal system — it can be done.