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Postmaster: Money orders may be fake

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Several counterfeit postal money orders have been found in the Le Mars area.

The money orders have been for amounts such as $850, $900 and $950, according to Mike Sitzmann, Le Mars postmaster. The quality of counterfeiting is very high in those found in Le Mars, he indicated.

The total of fraudulent money orders reported to the Le Mars Police Department recently is $2,850. All in the local area have been involved in some kind of Internet offer, according to the LMPD.

The scam is sometimes called the Nigerian scheme, although different places may be involved.

Postal money orders have security features to distinguish them from fake issues, according to the U.S. Postal Service. The first step is to hold the money order up to the light and look for specific security features:

* The watermark images of Ben Franklin are repeated on the left side from top to bottom.

* A dark security thread running top to bottom to the right of the Franklin watermark, with the tiny letters USPS facing backward and forward.

The denomination amount should be located in two locations on the money order, warn postal officials. Any discoloration of the amount means there has been an erasure on a fraudulent money order.

The maximum value allowed on a U.S. postal money order is $1,000. The maximum for an international postal money order is $700.

The U.S. Postal Service in Des Moines warns of a fraud scheme making the rounds through Internet chat rooms and auction sites, in e-mail messages and over the telephone.

The counterfeit money order scam begins when a victim is contacted by someone through the Internet, according to Linda Jensen, postal inspector. The contact claims to have financial problems or need help to cash domestic or international postal money orders.

"The person in need often claims to be living in a foreign country, but the scam artist can cook up the scheme from any location," said Jensen. "The scam artist is simply looking to recruit someone in the United States to cash the money orders and return the funds via wire transfer."

U.S. residents are lured into the scam when they are told they can keep some of the money as a gift or payment for their help. Unsuspecting victims provide their home mailing address to the fraudster and are told they will receive a check or postal money order that they should deposit into their own bank account.

The victim then is instructed to immediately send the money via Western Union or conventional bank wire transfer to a bank or person located outside the U.S.

Victims learn the postal money order is counterfeit only when they attempt to cash it. They may find out when their bank account takes a hit for the full amount when the bank refuses payment on the bogus deposit.

More information is available at Internet address: www.usps.com/missingmoneyorders/security.

To report fraud, local law enforcement should be contacted. The U.S. Postal Inspection's fraud complaint hotline is (800)372-8347 or online at Internet address: www.usps.com/postalinspectors.



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