Tips for Consumers: Counterfeit Checks & Postal Money Orders

Tips for Consumers
Counterfeit Checks & Postal Money Orders

You cannot believe your luck! Someone has just offered to pay you more than the purchase price for your car, boat or other merchandise you are selling on the Internet. All you have to do is accept a "certified check" or postal money order as payment; deposit it in your own bank account, keep the price of the item and a bit extra as a "gift" for your help; and wire the rest of the funds back to the overseas buyer. Is this deal "too good to be true?"
It sure is! Counterfeit "certified checks" and postal money orders are flooding the Hagerstown area and the rest of the country.
The scam usually begins with an overseas "buyer" who watches Internet want-ads or employment sites, looking for innocent consumers trying to sell merchandise or find a work-at-home job. Many are in Africa, the Caribbean or Canada, but they can be from anywhere. They target private citizens as well as small Internet retailers.
The scammer wants to purchase your merchandise and offers to send a payment through the mail. Sometimes you are told up front that the money order will be for more than the purchase price and that you should keep the extra funds as payment for your assistance. Other times, the "purchaser" claims to have made a mistake and asks you to refund the difference. Either way, you are told to s hip the merchandise immediately and return the "excess funds"-usually by Western Union-to an address often outside the U.S.
You cash or deposit the check or postal money order, assuming it is legitimate. Days later you learn that it was fake and you have lost your money and merchandise for good.
A counterfeit certified check cannot be easily detected, so don't trust it. Explain the situation to your bank security department before depositing it.
To check a postal money order, hold it up to the light and look for Been Franklin images repeated on the left side and a dark security thread running (top to bottom) to the right of the Franklin watermarks, with the tiny letters "USPS" facing backward and forward. If these are not present, the postal money order is a fake. If denomination amounts are discolored, they have been erased. If you have questions, call the Postal fraud hotline at 1-800-472-8347 or visit

Always contact the BBB to check out legitimate businesses. Visit our web site, or give us a call 24 hours a day at 410-347-3992. If you have a complaint, use our web site or write us at: BBB, 1414 Key Highway, #100, Baltimore, MD 21230. Our office serves Hagerstown and all of Washington County.