What courses of action do you have if you lose a money order?

Money orders are often used as a form of payment in lieu of writing out a check. A money order is a common form of payment and a pretty straightforward way of paying a bill or sending someone money.

A money order is designed much like a check and contains similar information. In theory, cashing a money order is the same as a check, so in this respect there is not much of a difference for the recipient except, as long as the money order isn’t fraudulent, payment is guaranteed. The primary difference between a check and money order is the person sending the money order has already paid for it and the money is now assured by the issuing agency. Since the document is paid for, the person sending the money cannot cancel payment in the same way as a check if a money order is lost.

What happens if the money order payment doesn’t make its destination? How do you retrieve the money?

There are a few proactive steps you can take in the event the money order doesn’t reach its intended recipient. Here are a few general rules of thumb to follow when making payments via money orders:

Save your receipt

When you purchase a money order, be sure and carefully document your receipt and place it somewhere secure for safekeeping.

The money order receipt is your proof of purchase and contains the serial numbers associated with the money order. This number is important so the issuing agency can track down the money order and put a stop payment on the document before it is cashed.

Ask the issuer for the serial number

If you don’t have your receipt, you can try to obtain the serial number from the merchant that sold you the money order. If the merchant keeps careful records and you remember the approximate date and the amount purchased on the money order, it is probable the merchant can track the number down for you. However, If you’ve bought your money order at the USPS, you’ll likely need the receipt.

Lost USPS money orders

If the money order was purchased at the USPS, you have to obtain PS Form 6401 from the Post Office, fill it out and to pay the required fee. After you take these steps, the USPS will run a payment inquiry to determine the status of the money order; then if deemed appropriate, a replacement can be issued.

If the money order has been cashed, this may cause problems getting a refund, unless by tracking down it turns out the money order was fraudulently cashed by someone not authorized to cash it. In this case it becomes a crime, but it is still a difficult situation to resolve and probably not a timely one.

Additionally, it’s important to know that it could take the USPS up to 60 days to investigate a lost money order.

Lost Western Union money orders

Western Union also has a procedure for lost money orders. If you have the serial number, but not the receipt, you have to fill out a specified form [PDF], sign your name in front of a Notary Public, and sent a $15 check or money order. If the money order is cashed, you will receive a photocopy of the document and, if not, you can get a refund. It gets a little trickier if you don’t have the serial number. You have to fill out a more detailed form [PDF] send in a $30 check or money order and mail to the above address.

When making any payment to request detailed information on a lost money order, be sure and make the check or money order out to Western Union. This is a drawback with using Western Union because the tracing fees are a considerable expense and, if the original payment was smaller than $15 or $30, it may not be worth the effort tracking down.

Additionally, according to the Western Union website: “If you do not know the serial number or the dollar amount and are unable to provide proof of purchase, your request for refund may be denied.”

If you are considering or plan to use a money order to make a payment, as an added layer of protection you might want to think about sending the payment through U.S. certified or other documented mail which will show proof of receipt. This way you can easily trace when the money order arrived and who signed for it.

This adds another way to trace the path of the money order and ensures it reaches its destination so you don’t have to go through the hassle of tracing, tracking and possibly losing out on your money.