Recently, foreign-based scam artists have hit Oregon residents with counterfeit postal money orders.

A fraud scheme making the rounds through Internet chat rooms and auction sites, in e-mail messages and over the telephone is costing victims in Oregon and the United States time, money and a not-so-pleasant chat with bank and law enforcement officials about passing counterfeit postal money orders.

According to U.S. postal inspectors, the counterfeit money order scam begins when a victim is contacted by someone claiming to have financial problems or needing help to cash domestic and international postal money orders.-

The person in need often claims to be living in a foreign country (usually Nigeria), but the scam artist can cook up the scheme from any location.-

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.

Oregon 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 United States.

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

Most lures promising quick-and-easy money are cast by fraudsters. These scam artists can easily connect to a sea of strangers through the Internet and dangle promising treats, hoping someone will bite.- Don't take the bait.

For more information about postal money order security features, visit the U.S. Postal Service Web site at www.usps.com/missingmoneyorders/security.

To report a fraud complaint, call the Fraud Complaint Hotline at 1-800-372-8347 or visit the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Web site at www.usps.com/postalinspectors.

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