Money orders are a safe and convenient way for customers to make payments or forward cash. This modest and longstanding postal product has quite a notable history. The government established the United States Money Order System in 1864 to allow Union soldiers to send money home to relatives and to reduce the risks associated with sending cash through the mail.
In today’s era of digital communications and mobile banking, the money order might seem like a passé postal product. However, it remains a popular and vital offering. Money order sales average about $22.4 billion a year, with the Postal Service earning about $135 million a year in revenue from fees. Customers can buy money orders at a local Post Office facility, branch, station, and from rural carriers using cash, U.S. Treasury checks, Traveler’s check, American Express gift checks, and pin-based debit cards.
The Postal Service does not accept payment by check or credit card for money orders, even though it accepts credit cards for other retail transactions throughout its retail network. Money orders are one of the few postal retail products not available online but require an in-person purchase. These and other safeguards were put in place to guard against unauthorized use of money orders and to protect the integrity of the system. Our recent audit report, Controls to Detect Money Order Fraud , found that some of the Postal Service’s current controls fall short in detecting fraud in a timely manner. The report highlighted that safeguards remain important in curbing the opportunities for misuse of money orders. It might be time to find the right balance between providing the public the access it expects in today’s digital world and preserving the safeguards needed to lower fraud and preserve security.