Scammers buy goods or services on the Web and offer payment by check or money order - often in excess of the actual value of the goods or services.
In most cases, con artists ship the check or money order and ask the victim to cash it, keep a portion as a "gift," and wire back the rest, usually to an overseas address.
Bank customers are responsible for the checks they deposit and have to repay the bank for bad checks and money orders. Just because you can withdraw the money doesn't mean the check is good. Banks often release funds from a cashier's check or money order before it clears.
To fight these unscrupulous thieves, the U.S. Postal Service has changed the look of its domestic and international money orders, and added new security features including a watermark and a new security thread.
When the money order is held up to a light, repeating images of former Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin can be seen, making it easier for banks and Post Offices to detect counterfeits.
A new holographic, multi-colored security thread also weaves in and out of the paper to stop scam artists attempting to produce fake money orders.
Domestic money orders are available at all post offices in amounts up to $1,000, at a cost of a little more than a dollar. International money orders valued at up to $700 are available to 30 countries for $3.85.
A complete list of participating countries can be found at usps.com.
Although the new, redesigned postal money orders are now available, the Postal Service and financial institutions will honor any previously issued and customer-held money order.
"The Postal Service and the Postal Inspection Service are committed to staying ahead of scammers and protecting our customers," said acting Chief Postal Inspector William Gilligan. "The additional security features will make money orders safer, smarter and more secure."
According to the lookstoogoodtobetrue.com Web site, con artists have found a way to exploit the charitable nature of Americans.
Just remember, be skeptical of anyone asking you to wire money to overseas bank accounts, or to cash money orders or checks on their behalf.
Know who you're dealing with, never give personal or financial information to anyone you don't know and never wire funds to anyone unless you're sure the money order or check he or she gave you has cleared by your bank and the funds released.
For additional information on all types of consumer fraud, check the Web site www.lookstogoodtobetrue.com.
For additional resources on fraudulent postal money orders and other mail-related scams check the Postal Inspection Service Web site at www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov.