Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
Money orders are a handy way to pay for a product or service without either party needing to have a bank account. It’s practically the same as handing over dollar bills, but you have the comfort of knowing you have a receipt with tracking information and proof of payment should the money order ever go missing or be stolen. It can be tricky to get those funds back without one.
If your money order has fallen into the wrong hands and been cashed, you might be down and out, but you’ve still got options. If it hasn’t been cashed yet, it’s likely you can recover the money. Here are the steps you can take to try to recoup your lost money order.
If the money order hasn’t been cashed yet, report it lost to the issuer and cancel it immediately
If your money order is nowhere to be found, it’s important to take action quickly; that’s because as soon as it’s cashed, it’s harder to get the funds back, so you want to act before it falls into the wrong hands.
Each money order issuer handles the process for recovering a lost money order slightly differently. Most will require you to contact the issuer and provide specific details about the money order, such as its serial number, so they can track down its status and see if it has been cashed or not. If it hasn’t been cashed yet, you will likely be able to cancel the order and get a refund or replacement money order.
Here’s how a few of the most popular issuers handle a lost money order:
- Western Union: If you still have your money order receipt, you will fill out the money order tracing/refund request on the back of it. You’ll mail it to the address listed on the back along with a $15 nonrefundable fee, and it can take up to 30 days to process. If you no longer have the receipt, fill out this form and mail it in with a $30 nonrefundable fee and expect processing to take six to eight weeks. You can also submit either of these forms by fax or email, and the business will then determine if you’re able to cancel and replace your money order.
- MoneyGram: If you’ve lost a MoneyGram money order, the business asks that you first check the money order’s status online to see if it’s eligible for cancellation and replacement. If it is, it will take you to a form where you can request your replacement money order. Your replacement will be processed in seven to 10 business days, and you’ll have to pay a nonrefundable processing fee of $18. If you submit your request via snail mail, the fee is $25 and it takes at least 20 business days, plus mail delivery time, for it to be processed.
- U.S. Postal Service: If your stolen or lost money order is through USPS, you can check the status of it online. But if you want it replaced, you have to go to your local Post Office in person. You’ll fill out and submit a “Form 6401 Money Order Inquiry” and pay a $5.95 processing fee. The Postal Service says once you’ve submitted the form, check their Missing Money Order List (link to download at the bottom of this page ) to see if your money order’s serial number is on there. Once they’ve determined your order’s status, you’ll be issued a replacement. However, keep in mind that you’re not guaranteed a full refund on a stolen or lost money order if you don’t have a receipt for it.
What happens next?
As you can see, once you notify the issuer of the lost money order, it can take anywhere from a week to two months for them to determine the status of your money order and potentially issue a replacement or refund. If you are eligible for a refund or replacement, Western Union and MoneyGram will mail them to you.
If your lost money order was through the USPS, you’ll receive a letter letting you know if you’re eligible for a replacement money order (while they won’t refund a lost money order, you can make the replacement out to yourself and cash it). But you have to go back to your local post office in person to receive it.
If you needed to get those funds to someone urgently, it may be wise to purchase another money order in the meantime since it could take a while to get your replacement or refund.
If your lost money order has been cashed, ask for a copy from the issuer
If your stolen or lost money order has already been cashed by an unintended recipient, you might not be able to get the funds back. If it has been cashed, it’s common for issuers to provide you a photocopy of the cashed money order (if not, you can ask for one). This document lets you see who endorsed it, and if it’s someone who stole the money order, you can report it to law enforcement and provide them with this document so they can try to track down and prosecute the thief.
If the lost money order was blank, that means anyone can sign and cash it, making it harder for you to ever get that money back. But if it was addressed to someone and a different person cashed it, you may be able to get a refund since the bank didn’t properly verify the identity of the recipient.
How to keep your money order safe
Losing a money order is a headache, and as you now know, can result in a total loss of those dollars. If you want to make sure this never happens to you again, try these tips next time:
- Always save your receipt: Having your money order receipt can go a long way in speeding up the cancellation process, and some issuers won’t replace a money order or provide a full refund without one.
- Deliver your money orders carefully: One way to help prevent lost money orders in the future is to hand-deliver them or mail them. MoneyGram advises against leaving them in a drop box or anywhere they can easily be taken.
- Never leave the recipient field blank: If your money order is lost or stolen, it’s easier for someone to get away with it if they obtain a blank money order. You’re more likely to recoup the funds if it’s cashed by someone other than the indicated recipient, so fill out that field immediately (and with a black pen that won’t rub off).