If you receive a money order as payment, it’s a good idea to make sure the document is legitimate before you try to cash it or deposit it in your checking account. Many fake money orders look very close to the real thing, so you can’t always rely on appearance alone to make sure a money order is real.
Each money order issuer uses its own security features and ways to verify the legitimacy of its money orders. Below, we detail the ways you can verify a money order from each major U.S. issuer before you cash or deposit it.
How to Verify a USPS Money Order
On its website, the United States Postal Service (USPS) provides a guide to spotting fake USPS money orders. USPS money orders have several security features designed to prevent counterfeiting. On a genuine USPS money order, you should be able to find the following:
- When you hold the money order up to the light, there will be watermarked images of Benjamin Franklin visible on the left side, from top to bottom.
- A multicolored vertical thread imprinted with “USPS” also appears when the money order is held up to the light, on the right side of the watermark.
- The dollar amount on a USPS money order is printed twice on the right-hand side, one above the other.
- The amount of a legitimate USPS money order cannot exceed $1,000 for domestic money orders or $700 for most international money orders. (Note: The limit is $500 for money orders from Guyana or El Salvador.)
The USPS recommends that you inspect the dollar amount for signs of ink discoloration, which can indicate that the original amount of the money order has been changed. You can also call the USPS at (866) 459-7822 to verify a money order or use the online Money Order Inquiry System.
How to Verify a MoneyGram Money Order
MoneyGram money orders include a watermark that is visible when the money order is held at an angle or held up to the light. Its watermark looks like a repeated “X” shape, similar to a chain-link fence, and crosses the entire surface of the money order.
MoneyGram’s money orders also use a stop sign logo that changes colors when heated. When you touch the logo (which appears on the front of the money order), the color will fade from the heat of your finger and then reappear.
To verify the money order with MoneyGram directly, you can call the customer service department at (800) 666-3947 and provide the money order’s serial number.
How to Verify a Western Union Money Order
Western Union’s money orders include a watermark and use ink that will run if any attempts are made to alter the document. As with USPS money orders, it’s also a good idea to check the dollar amounts on these money orders for signs of tampering. The amount should be printed in blue ink in the amount box on the right side, as well as spelled out above the “Pay to the Order Of” field.
You can also call Western Union and (800) 999-9660 and provide the serial number to ensure that a money order is genuine.
General Tips for Spotting Fake Money Orders
One of the best ways to make sure you don’t cash a fake money order is to recognize and avoid common money order scams, such as overpayment and “buyer’s remorse” scams. We provide more information about avoiding fake money orders and scams.
However, you may simply receive a bogus money order as payment, without any of the additional steps involved in a more extensive scam. You can do the following to help verify the legitimacy of money orders from other types of issuers, such as banks or credit unions:
- Inspect the document for lack of security features, obvious or subtle signs of tampering, or anything that seems out of place or missing.
- Pay attention to the amount. In general, money orders are only issued for up to $1,000 maximum, and in some cases, the maximum allowed amount is less. For exact amounts, see our article on the maximum amount for money orders at places that sell them.
- Note: If the amount appears in two places on the money order, make sure that the amounts match, and the ink appears to be the same.
- Call the issuer and ask to verify the serial number and amount.
If you deposit a fake money order without realizing that it is fake, we explain the legal and financial consequences of using a fake money order.
For more about money orders, see our other articles for information on places you can get a money order that are open 24 hours, or find out where you may be able to get free money orders. We also answer more questions about how money orders work in our money order FAQ.