As an ASDA member, I get occasional alerts about thefts of philatelic material. Should I encounter such material, I would contact the authorities and get the material back to its rightful owner. Hopefully the authorities will prosecute the person who stole the material.

Recently, an alert came my way that made me think. The alert is for what I would consider run-of-the-mill material. That is, it was a collection of FDCs and some mint and used US stamps. It was a collection that I see all of the time. The only thing that made it stand out was that some of the FDCs were addressed to a certain last name. And a few of the stamps (none rare, all in the $200 and under range) had certificates.

As a collector, especially if you have valuable material, my suggestion to you is to take the valuable items from your collection and take pictures of them or scan them in on your computer. If they have certificates of authenticity, you may want to record the certificate number and the issuing committee.

In the case of theft, you have an image of what was taken from your collection. For a dealer like me, if I saw those stamps come across my desk, I would know that they were stolen.

Here is the difficulty and, unfortunately, the bad news for some collectors.

Not everyone can afford valuable items. Thatís OK because I suggest that everyone collect for fun. You should collect what you enjoy and spend whatever you can afford on your hobby. Iím not suggesting that you only buy valuable stamps.

For many collectors though, that means that their collection isnít easily distinguishable from someone elseís collection.

I get family members all of the time who know nothing about stamps. Meeting someone who knows nothing about stamps is normal to me. So a thief could steal your collection, bring it to me and say it was from their deceased Uncle Jimmy, and I couldnít tell you if it was stolen or not.

I donít mean to sound callous here. But if what you have is mostly common, ordinary stamps, and they are stolen Ė the loss may be more sentimental than monetary. Unless you have an enormous quantity of common stamps (which thieves wouldnít want to bother with anyway), then the monetary loss isnít overly tremendous.

But if you have unusual items in your collection or material that ranges in the hundreds of dollars or more, I recommend getting a digital record of them. In the case of theft, it will help dealers like me spot stolen material and it could mean the difference in getting your collection returned to you. If you canít make the digital record of your collection, I bet someone in your family can help you.