Money orders stolen; Milwaukee woman gets refund and answers

After her money orders were stolen, a Milwaukee woman wrote to Contact 6 wanting answers and her money back.

Theresa Wawrzyniak is one frugal sports fan. Her family often gives her Packers memorabilia as gifts. Some of those gifts, like potholders and coasters, she hangs on the walls.

"My granddaughter is like, "why don’t you use them?" said Wawrzyniak. "I explain, it’s the Packers stuff. You don’t use the Packers stuff."  

"I've never been late"

Wawrzyniak’s monthly income is limited but she’s never fumbled a bill.  

"I don’t like being late on paying my bills. I’ve never been late," said Wawrzyniak.

That’s why Wawrzyniak was frustrated when three money orders she had mailed for her internet, mortgage and credit card never arrived.

"I was fit to be tied," said Wawrzyniak. "I didn’t know what to do."

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Money orders purchased

In April, Wawrzyniak says she went to a Pick ‘n Save to get three money orders totaling $740. A money order is a prepaid paper document and an alternative to sending a check.

Wawrzyniak says on her way to a Sunday church service, she stopped by the post office near 76th and Forest Home in Greenfield and dropped the money orders into a blue collection box.

"I will never put it in the mailbox like that again. I don’t trust it," Wawrzyniak told Contact 6.

Wawrzyniak says a post office employee later told her that collection box was robbed. Greenfield Police confirm the box has been targeted by thieves and they have other reports of stolen mail.

"The (post office) said, ‘Well, we don’t know where your letters are,’" said Wawrzyniak.

Unsure where to turn next, Wawrzyniak and her son, Chad, wrote to Contact 6 asking for help. Contact 6 emailed Western Union which issued her money orders. Soon after, Wawrzyniak learned the money orders had been cashed by someone she doesn’t know.

"They rinsed them out and put their names and addresses on them," said Wawrzyniak.

After Contact 6 wrote to Western Union, Wawrzyniak was able to get copies of the cashed money orders. The orders were originally written to Spectrum, Discover and Landmark Credit Union. The cashed money orders were written out to a man who lives in Menomonee Falls. Contact 6 isn't identifying him because he hasn't been criminally charged.

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Contact 6 spoke with the man outside his home. He said he'd never seen the money orders before and would contact the police to report identity theft.

Looking at the money orders, it’s hard to tell they were tampered with. There’s no writing that appears scratched-out or written-over, but the money order numbers match those on Wawrzyniak’s receipts.

DATCP recommends

"Our understanding is that check washing is increasing," said Michelle Reinen, administrator of the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer protection (DATCP) advises dropping off any payments inside the post office, placing a hold on mail while on vacation and using gel pens on checks.

"A gel pen can’t be chemically washed the same way as a traditional ballpoint ink pen can be," said Reinen.

Michelle Reinen

The United States Postal Inspection Service says on its website that checks can be "washed in chemicals to remove the ink. Sometimes scammers will even use copiers or scanners to print fake copies of a check."

Wawrzyniak got her $740 back from Western Union. She was relieved to not pay the $90 fee to cancel the money orders.

"I never would have been able to do it without you guys," said Wawrzyniak.

Western Union didn’t respond to Contact 6’s request for comment on this report. It called Wawrzyniak directly within days of getting her Contact 6 complaint form.

Money orders are usually a safer alternative to paying with checks or cash. If your money order goes missing in the mail, start by finding your receipt and the order’s serial number. Then, contact the issuer of the money order. They should have a tracking process to figure out whether it’s been cashed.

Lastly, request a refund or replacement from the issuer. If it’s approved, you may have to pay a fee to cancel the money order.