Illicit traders could be moving into new territory, it is feared, following a trading standards sting in Merseyside that uncovered a haul of fake postage stamps.

More than half of 17 convenience stores and off-licences in St Helens that were visited by trading standards and Merseyside police in a series of inspections were found to have illegal goods including tobacco, alcohol and black market postage stamps.

Among the counterfeit products seized from the nine stores were 76 packets of cigarettes, hundreds of potentially dangerous cigarette lighters and 810 black market postage stamps, with a value of £510.30, which were taken by officers from the Royal Mail.

Councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron cabinet member for Green, Smart and Sustainable Borough said: “Not only can the sale of fake products be dangerous as people can be seriously harmed, but responsible, law-abiding traders can be undermined and forced out of business.”

Not only can the sale of fake products be dangerous as people can be seriously harmed, but responsible, law-abiding traders can be undermined and forced out of business

The shops were targeted after undercover test purchase exercises revealed a number of premises across St Helens were found selling fake postage stamps.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “It is a crime to create or use counterfeit stamps. We will prosecute where we find someone has created counterfeit stamps or knowingly sold used stamps for re-use.

“We advise all retailers only to purchase their stamps from Royal Mail and members of the public only to purchase from reputable outlets that publicise that they are licensed Royal Mail stamp retailers.”

The St Helens operation follows a store in Netherton, Merseyside, being found to be selling counterfeit vodka and stamps in September last year.