Counterfeit Money Orders: The Ultimate Guide

Should you accept a money order as payment for goods sold online? How do you know if it’s real? Identifying counterfeit money orders is easy if you know what to look for.

Online fraud artists have been using counterfeit and worthless checks for years. However, in recent years, there’s been an uptick in the use of counterfeiting U.S. Postal Service money orders. The quality of what these con artists are producing is very good and ordinary consumers can easily be fooled. This scam is also prevalent on online auction sites like eBay, bulletin boards and email solicitations.

According to the F.B.I. and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in the six month period from October 2004 through March 2005, forgers in other countries – such as Nigeria, Ghana and Eastern Europe – have renewed their interest in the United States postal money order. In just three months, October 2004 through December 2004, more than 3,700 fake U.S. Postal money orders were intercepted. This number exceeded the total number of captured counterfeit U.S. Postal money orders for the previous 12 months.

Image of counterfeit money orders

Counterfeit Money Order Arrests are on the Rise Worldwide

During the same six month time period, October 2004 through March 2005, at least 160 arrests were made in the U.S. The people arrested were suspected of deliberately receiving counterfeit U.S. Postal money orders and/or trying to cash them. Unfortunately if you’ve been a victim to any of these individuals your money and/or you product is long gone.

Most of the time the counterfeiters are not the ones trying to use the U.S. Postal money orders. Instead they’ve focused their efforts on contacting would be victims using email or via an online chat room. They try to trick victims into taking the fake U.S. Postal Service money orders in exchange for items their selling on places like eBay or Craigslist. Sometimes they even get people to cash the money orders in return for a fee that they’ve promised them. Bogus financial instruments have been used over and over again in many different flavors of the same basic Internet scheme.

According to the United States Postal Service they’re not able to approximate the dollar value of the counterfeit postal money orders they’ve intercepted. Some experts guess the total amount could run into the millions of dollars.

This increase in activity is worthy of note due to the security measures taken to help ensure U.S. Postal money orders are hard to fake. Dissimilar to private business checks or even other money orders created by banks, the U.S. Postal money order has watermarks, security threads and a rainbow of inked patterns and tones.

Small Internet Retailers and the Public are Favorite Targets for Money Order Counterfeiters

The lack of consumer common sense has led to counterfeit U.S. Postal money orders being used to purchase goods/services from small Internet retailers, classified advertisers or others lured into an Internet con scheme, from sellers of antiques to exotic and classic automobiles. They’ve permeated every corner of commerce.

The U.S. Postal Service inspectors say they’ve been working with global delivery companies, like Federal Express and UPS, to catch packages containing phony money orders as they enter the United States. They also communicate to financial institutions, asking them to “keep an eye out” and continue to be vigilant. You can find tips for identifying counterfeit postal money orders online, , at

How to tell the difference between genuine USPS postal money orders and fake ones

U.S. Postal Service Money Orders have security features that distinguish them from other financial instruments. Learning to recognize them will protect you from being victimized by the scheme. Postal Money Orders have special inks, watermarks, and security threads. The two most prominent security features can be viewed by holding the money order in front of a light source. Look for these features:

  • A watermark of Benjamin Franklin, the oldest and one of the most famous signers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, is visible on both the front and reverse side of the money order when held to the light.
  • A dark security thread running (top to bottom) to the right of the Franklin watermark, with the tiny letters “USPS” facing backward and forward.

counterfeit money order identification

The Postal Service issues domestic and international money orders. Domestic Postal Money Orders cannot exceed a value of $1,000. They are distinguished by their green, yellow, and blue colors. Most counterfeit Postal Money Orders are domestic, with a face value of $750 to $950.

International Postal Money Orders are printed in pink, yellow, and gold and cannot exceed a value of $700. There has been an increase in counterfeit international money orders printed with values of $500 to $700.

How Counterfeit Money Order Scams Work

In a typical counterfeit money order con, the person selling an item is sent counterfeit postal money orders that together amount for more than the cost of the item being paid for. The buyer then asks the seller to keep the cost of the purchase and ship back the difference between what was sent and what was owed, in cash, along with the merchandise. This is also known as a Nigerian Scam because many of these types of scams have originated in Nigeria or other African nations.

These scams have become very sophisticated recently and there are all kinds of variations. If you want to ensure you aren’t accepting a counterfeit money order, never accept one from a stranger unless you have some way of verifying its authenticity. You can also protect yourself by being smart and watching out for warning signs such as offers to pay more than something is worth. Paying attention to “red flags” instead of ignoring them can save you a lot of grief…and money.

Seller beware!

Counterfeit Postal Money Order Scam Links

45 Responses

  1. Georgia Smith says:

    I deposited 2 money oders into my bank for payment for a computer posted for sale on craigslist. Now I,have a block keeping me from opening a checking account. How do I remove the block?

    • Mckenzie says:

      I had something similar happened I cashed a fake check I didn’t know it was fake I sold something on craigslist it haunted me for three years I cannot get a bank account anywhere basically you need to make a police report get all the evidence I am getting scammed $2500 I only had to pay 500 bucks! What’s I know it’s a lot of money but it’s better than $2500 Pretty much actors made an attempt to collect some of the money and they made a deal with me to pay 500 once I had that took it off and explain the scam I was able to get a credit card I was able to get a bank account again

    • manny says:

      So I sold my aunt something she sent me money order the amount I reviewed but got lost in the mail and received it 6 months later in that 6 months she sent it a different one and it worked. So the first one she sent I deposited and made a money order for her to send it back. But than they’re saying it’s “bad money” so confused now I owe the bank 165 for it

  2. Lori Gonzales says:

    I have had 5 Nigerian scammers this week wanting to buy my dresser listed on craigslist, Yesterday law enforcement intercepted the first fake money order in route to me in Caldwell, ID, intercepted at Spokane, WA, today a woman calling herself lovely Mary texting a $3,000 fake money order is coming to me today UPS (the first was USPS), these people are really dumb, I am to keep my $399 and pay the shipper the remaining amount of $2,700, (like I am going to do that!) not really sure where to take these fake money orders?

    • Bruce Vanderhoef says:

      I had the same exact scam, I was selling an organ on Craig’s list, they mailed me a counterfeit cashiers check wanted me to send them back, apx $1500. For movers, I suspected fraud so said so at bank before I showed them check, I kept playing the game with the scamers, I now have, 9 bad checks, and no law enforcement is interested, I have 12 different text numbers, they have been calling me, but seems to be coming thru bad connections, all this in less than 2 weeks, putting all checks on coffee table for conversation piece

      • Paulo says:

        I just got the same type of message. I’m selling some musical equipment and they offered to send a cashiers check but with an extra amount (almost $1300 more) for movers. At first I didn’t know what to think but I thought it was weird. I decided to back off on the deal after reading about these scams.

        • Hary says:

          Same thing happened to me , now the person threatening me that he made an complaint in FBI and local CAI . I didn’t get the cheque cashed . They sent me a cheque of $1980 for just an old used furniture of $300 . What did you do with the cheque ?

  3. Michele Hartge says:

    I have the same thing happening I fear. Posted sofa for sale on Craig’s list – phone number texted me next day – outside of Ohio. Got text today they will not give me their names I have asked.. but was told today that $1500.00 cashier’s check being mailed today. When I receive I am to keep my $300 for the sofa, plus $50 for “my trouble” and then they will provide me with instructions for shipper.. I responded back and expressed concern with very large shipping amount – text is full of grammar and spelling and after ?? the shipping cost was told that the shipper is picking up 2 branded truck what the heck does that mean? also said they work in “MARINE” yea ok… so I have a tracking number and will not be expecting this to be real. So far have two different text numbers

    • Penny says:

      I had the same thing happened to me today. Scam.

      • Jerimie says:

        I had the same thing happen to me but cashed the checks as I had multiply items for sale and told them I was gonna wait until funds cleared well they did but won’t give me there address to ship the stuff and instead want me to deposit money into a bank account and have txt msg me threatening me as I had lost my phone !

  4. Petalpusher says:

    Thank you everyone on listing this information. I have something listed on Craigslist and a woman (supposedly) has sent me a Wells Fargo Money Order via UPS for more than it is worth plus $100.00 for my trouble. Then I have been given all this shipping information as to her shipper. After reading all of your comments my guess is that all this is fake. I called WF and asked that if I cash this will they be protected and they said they would know if it is fake or not. Hmmmm…
    I am not certain that this is for real.

  5. bowflexseller says:

    I just recently had the same scam pulled on me and almost fell for it I put my Bowflex on Craigslist for 450.00 and got a response within 1 hour from a Richard via text offering to buy, to make a long story short he is sending a cashiers check usps for 2100.00 which I am supposed to keep my 450.00 once the check is cleared and then he will send me info on where to send the rest for the moving company he has arranged to pick up the Bowflex. I am waiting on the check and then I will take it to the bank and tell them what is going on tell them I believe it is a scam and let them handle it.

  6. JustinK says:

    I posted my apple watch on Craigslist and got a reply from a number literally 30 min after the post saying saying he’s located in New York and he’s “out on business” and wanted me to hold the item for him and he’d send me $50 extra dollars for doing so. I sent him my address and told him I would hold it for the extra $50. He gives me a tracking number and says the check was on the way. I get to my mailbox yesterday and the check is written for $1,850! I told him how much he sent me to confirm he knew the amount and then he tells me that he wants me to send the remainder of the money to his “delivery service” and gave me the information to where I’d need to ship it, but when I asked where I need to ship the watch he said his “agent” would come pick it up? The check looks like a normal check, but I just find it very weird that they would pay over $500 for a watch that they could get brand new at an apple store for $500. If you have all that money why not just go get one instead of going through the trouble. I haven’t cashed the check yet because it’s sketchy, but if he’s having someone pick it up after I cash it then I don’t see how I can get scammed. Will someone please tell me how I could get screwed here?

    • Penny says:

      My check was also for &1850.

    • Joe says:

      It’s a bad check

    • jason ford says:

      its all a scam, there is no moving service and there is no agent, the reason they send you a check for more than the price you are asking for is to see if you will actually take the check to a place that will give you instant cash instead of waiting for it to clear a bank, so you can send them the money right away to avoid being caught, so you have your money you wanted for the item and the rest you wired back is a mystery, they give you fake info to wire the money to. in a week you end up losing because recourse is taken against you, and you end up in jail

      • Joe says:

        Holy shit I saw all these comments, I sold an item on CL too and I just cashed the money order today. I feel like imma end up being in jail, what should I do at this point? Should I just reach out to the bank as well as the police or? Someone please help me, the amount was around $1000

    • Cynthia C. says:

      Look at the address on the envelope. The person buying my bike said she was from Austin. The address was from Alphagraphics in Florida,which I found on line. The cashiers check has Blackacre LLC written from Suntrust Bank. Bike was 225.00. Check was for1680.00. Shipper was suppose to come pick up rest of money and bike. I called Alpha graphics and they told me FBI was working with postal service . Don’t put it in your bank account. The scam person is a computer and they will empty your acct.

    • Scott Minster says:


  7. Scott says:

    I just recieved a money order for $970 and another for $800, for helping to run “errands” for a guy that is out of state. Broken English all over the emails. No physical items are being purchased. Anyone know how this one works?? Oh, and he also wants me to send the money order itself back to him once it’s cashed. Anyone heard of this routine??

  8. Bob says:

    Thank you all for saving me a lot of trouble. My son fell for the “errand” scam and I am waiting to receive my very own fake check from “Pastor Rick” for my Utility trailer with extra money to give the shippers..What happens when you try to cash the check? How do they get their money? Anyone want to buy a trailer?

  9. Julie says:

    Ugh! This just happened to me! I should have followed my gut. They said the money order has been sent, but if I get it should I just mail it back? I told them I decided not to sell my item after finding this page, but now they won’t stop texting me.

  10. Courtney says:

    I cashed the check because I didn’t know it could’ve been a scam. The check cleared. What does that mean? Is it really a scam then?

    • jason ford says:

      the check cleared, once the bank finds out its fake, you are the one in trouble, the scammer is long gone because he/she changed their identity

      • Joe says:

        Hey Jason, so I just cashed the money today. What should I do at this point? Would the bank be more understanding if I told them I’m being scammed on CL and I would be willing to return the money? I just don’t wanna get any trouble..I feel like shit now cause I literally just cashed out the money order.

    • Joe says:

      Hey Courtney, so what happened? I sold an item and just cash the money order today for about $1000, I’m insanely worried that the police is gonna look for me. I feel like I should reach out to the bank and tell them I’m being scammed? What was your best solution? Thanks…

      • Scott Minster says:

        All of you that are cashing these money orders or checks, the check will clear but you will be liable for the amount they are for . Again, you need to call the bank the check is drawn on and they will tell you it is fake as soon as you give them the info. The money sounds great to all of us but unless you want to owe the bank whatever amount of money, do not do it. If they keep contacting you, tell them you gave the check to the police or local branch of FBI. I guarantee you the harassment will stop.

  11. Mike says:

    Same here, but instead they wanted me to wire money to Fresno! Call was from a “marine” Texas phone number, cashiers check, was sent from Mesa, Az, then the cashiers check was also from Texas. I was like, no thanks. Ripped up the check. Rather be safe than sorry

  12. Ann says:

    I just listed a truck for sake on Craigslist started getting texts immediately. Same stuff. They would overnight me the money or better yet they want my email on my PayPal account and they will send $$ that way. I got several texts in over a 2hr span. I checked with Craigslist they recommend ‘locals only, cash only’. I started blocking the numbers and don’t even respond. Geeze it’s a broken down truck and parts only salvage. I knew no one would really want to pay that rediculous amount of money, and please a ‘shipper’! Used to be buyer beware but now it’s everyone beware!

  13. Hope says:

    I have posted several things on Craigslist this year as I was moving. I have received one counterfeit cashier’s check (poorly done and easy to recognize) and now what I believe to be a counterfeit money gram (sophisticated forgery I think). For the most part, I catch the scam early on before anything comes my way. But some of these scammers are getting more and more clever and they don’t “scam” you until they have already sent the cashier’s check or money order (by overnight Fedex) for much more than the intended item) and then they send you instructions. A Fedex arrived today (8 am) with a money gram for $950 for a $170 item. It came from Inkster MI – from what I assume is a fake name and address. Despite pleading texts, I am ripping up the money gram and blocking this number from my phone. I have had plenty of great experiences on Craigslist and will continue to use it as both a buyer and seller. Just remember, STAY AWAY from anything that deviates from the normal pay and pick up or pay and ship for the exact amount.

  14. Dawn says:

    I replied to an ad on Craigslist to be an executive assistant. I was sent 3 money orders. I was instructed to deposit into my account, keep $500 for “my services” then send them a copy of the deposit slip. I knew something wasn’t right so I called 866-45X-XXXX to verify the authenticity of the money orders. They were fake!!!

  15. RFuchs says:

    What if I deposit the money orders at a check cashing place? Would I still be open to identity theft?

    • Savvy Seller says:

      No money order place is going to cash a fake money order or cashiers check. The only way you would open to fraud (other then cashing a bad check) would be if you were to write you ss# or bank account # on the money order, and then, only if that money order was actually cashed and returned to the original buyer (which is something that money order companies do not do). However, if you knowingly cash a fraudulent check, you are committing the crime of fraud. Be careful what you do.

  16. Darla Bardelli says:

    I have received a “Cashiers check” for 3X the amount agreed to on an item. They want me to cash the “Cashiers Check” take my amount out and send them the balance ($1400.00) via wal mart money transfer IMMEDIATELY… with text instructions on what to do next… very covert and fishy. What should I do? I have read so many different scenerios and I don’t want to get involved in some sort of a scam. Please help. I received the money about an hour ago and they are waiting for a response. Pease hellp on next steps

  17. Jeannene Gomes says:

    I received 2 money orders in the mail at different times. I still have them and didn’t cash them. Who do I contact to report them? They are both fake. Its funny because they are both dated for the same day and year. I won’t deposit them because I know they are fake. Fell for this scam before


  18. Jon Hedman says:

    I was selling a old stove and take for $225 period on Craigslist. A lady texted me or started emailing me from Florida said she travels a lot wanted to buy the stove and have me hold it for an extra $20 which sounded okay. She said she was going to send a cashier’s check for the amount. But needed my address so I gave her my address the check shows up and it’s for $2,900 apparently the rest goes to the shippers when they get to the house because they ship a lot of things for her and she owes them the money. A red flag went up then I’m working on sending the check back to someone and her business email address and location in New York do not match up to any such thing what do you think

  19. Candy says:

    Best thing to do is don’t take money orders checks or none of the above cash only get a pen that you can check to see if it’s real. Then u won’t have a thing to worry about!!-

  20. Savvy Seller says:

    I posted several items for sale on Craigslist yesterday. I was amazed at the response I got immidatly on almost everything! Fortunately the first thing I sold was to a young lady that showed up at my door with cash in hand, but three other things are all sketchy. I consider myself pretty savvy about the scams, but I enjoy pushing the boundaries to see how far these idiots will go (besides I want them to spend as much money as possible on fedx/ups as I can). So three of my “Buyers” have offered me an additional $50 to accept a cashiers check, and one buyer has offered me $50 to accept a personal check. All of my buyers have said they are local and simply can not find the time to drive out to my area to see the items but absolutely want them! I asked each person if they would pay using PayPal, this prompted not one reply. Soon all the buyers contacted me again (two via email and two via text) saying they were happy to wait until their check had cleared my bank before arranging for shipping. I agreed to this and told them where to send the check. Then next email I received, from only one of my buyers, was the standard “I will include the amount for shipping in the money order I send you.” To this I replied that they need to take care of their own shipping arrangements. Their response was (this made me chuckle) “The shipper has no checking account.” My reply was that if they wanted to send me two cashiers checks, one for my item, and one for the shipper, I would be happy to pass along the cashiers check to the shipper. So as of now, I am awaiting three cashiers checks, and one personal check for items I am attempting to sell. I don’t expect that any of these purchases are for real, and will keep my things listed until such time as I am proved wrong (perhaps my personal check customer?). Let’s start costing these scammers some money by letting them continue to express Mail their worthless checks. This doesn’t mean we need to give them any money or merchandise, but perhaps we can inflect a small amount of pain of our own.

  21. Flo says:

    if you did not send the balance to the scammer, you are not loosing any money, but the bank, will think you wanted to steal money

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