Being able to spot a counterfeit money order could be the difference between obtaining money owed and being left seriously out of pocket. The issue of counterfeit money orders has now been around for many years, and some criminal enterprises have made a lot of money out of them.
Money orders were once one of the most trusted methods of sending money, both nationally and internationally, and were often preferable to the sending of cash or cheques. This though soon meant it was an ideal tool for fraudsters to make use of.
A few years ago it was easy to spot a counterfeit money order, as a fake money order looked just that, fake. There would be obvious spelling mistakes, mismatched and missing details, and colours which were a pale shade of the real money orders.
The technology available to fraudsters has improved greatly in recent years, as has the skill of those people who counterfeit money orders. This means that even experts can find it difficult to tell a real money order from a fake one just by the looks of it.
Most counterfeit money orders that are spotted early on do so because they fail one or more of the quick visual checks. Most money orders now have watermarks as a central element of the money order’s security measures. When held up to a light source the image should be clearly visible. In the case of US Postal Money Orders this watermark is an image of Benjamin Franklin, but the watermark will of course vary from issuing institution to institution.
Most money orders have a range of unusual colours printed on them, making it more difficult and more expensive to fake. Poor reproductions normally have a duller colour associated with them, and give the image of being a faded version of the true money order.
Visually checking of money orders is something that is easier to undertake when comparing against a known genuine money order, although most people will not be in the fortunate position of having a spare genuine money order from the same institution to hand.
It is though not impossible for someone to create a fake money order to pass these visual checks, and some of the best counterfeiters make use of the same machinery and technology which are used to create genuine ones. In these cases it is only the originating institution that can confirm whether a money order is real or not, and can be paid out against.
Those people who produce counterfeit money orders do so in the hope that people will trust them enough to pay out money or goods based on the look of the money order rather than waiting for confirmation of its validity. Common scams often originate in Nigeria where a money order is used to pay for goods, with the money order being made out for too much money. When the money order is presented the fraudster asks for the difference in value to be wired back to them, and a surprisingly large number of people fall for the scam.
The rise in counterfeit money orders has changed the way that most financial organisations and post offices deal with them. Once it was possible to get instant payment on presentation of the money order, now though they are treated more like cheques and require a clearing process to be followed. Money orders are confirmed with the originating institution, checking that the details of the money order are genuine, including amounts and payee, and that it has not already been paid out against. Depending on the originating institution these checks could take several weeks, certainly longer than the cheque clearing system.
Money orders are still well utilised around the world, although for those worried about receiving counterfeit money orders there are many alternatives, and electronic payments are now far easier, quicker and generally more secure than money orders.