Warning Issued About Stolen Money Orders : * Business: Thousands of blank slips were taken during L.A. looting. Merchants are cautioned.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousands of blank money order slips were among the items stolen from grocery stores and liquor stores during last week's rioting in Los Angeles, and merchants elsewhere are starting to get stung with the losses.

"People are selling these money orders on the street, and merchants need to be careful in accepting them," warned Al McCown, chief financial officer of Continental Currency Services in Santa Ana.

McCown said he didn't want to cause a panic, but he cautioned that because money orders are like checks, merchants should make sure they know their customers.

"If you don't know the person you're accepting the money order from, you should call our toll-free number to see if it's one we've stopped payment on," he said. The number for Continental money orders is (800) 640-4042 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. PDT.

Continental is one of three major companies that provides money orders in California through such agents as grocery and liquor stores and check-cashing operations.

About 400 agents, McCown said, are in South Los Angeles, where rioting and looting erupted after the April 29 acquittals of four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

Many of the stores with Continental money orders were Korean-owned, he said, and those stores were hit hard in the rioting.

McCown said his company has stopped payment on thousands of stolen money orders. "We're trying to figure out what's out there and what isn't," he said. Many of the slips were probably burned in the more than 5,000 fires that raged throughout Los Angeles and Long Beach.

So far, more than 400 stolen Continental money orders, many written out for the maximum amount of $500, have been foisted on merchants and others, he said.

"At this point, it doesn't look organized," he said. "It looks very disorganized. It'll die off. But in the next few weeks, people should be careful."

The two other major money-order firms, he said, are American Express and Travelers Express. Information on valid American Express money orders can be obtained by calling (800) 477-9998 in Denver between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PDT. For Travelers, which is in Minneapolis, the number is (800) 328-5678 between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. PDT.

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