CORONAVIRUS

The prepaid stimulus debit card in your mailbox is legit - not a scam

It's your federal stimulus money, but some people are thinking it's junk mail and discarding

Debit cards are being used to distribute federal stimulus money, but are being mistaken for junk mail or a scam. (Consme
Debit cards are being used to distribute federal stimulus money, but are being mistaken for junk mail or a scam. (ConsmerFinance.gov)
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DES MOINES — If you’re looking for your federal stimulus money, officials with the U.S. Department of the Treasury want you do know the prepaid debit card — not a check — is in the mail.

Last week, federal officials began mailing out government prepaid debit cards to individuals qualifying for up to $1,200 in federal stimulus money included in the $2 trillion CARES Act legislation.

But officials worry there was little public notice and Iowans are mistaking the cards as a scam or junk mail and throwing them away, not knowing their value.

”Many people thought these cards were a scam or a solicitation, and they tossed them in the trash,” said Lynn Hicks of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

“Right now we’re trying to get the word out to people,” he said. “Don’t throw it away if you receive it and be aware of the fine print.”

Hicks said the IRS apparently is sending the Economic Impact Payment debit cards to qualifying Iowans who either have not given their banking information to the IRS or have some other obstacle to receiving the money via direct deposit.

The cards must be activated by phone or online before they can be used.

Read More: CARES Act Pre-Paid Debit Cards FAQ

The Visa card arrives in an envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services, with MetaBank on the back and has instructions to activate it by calling a phone number and providing a Social Security number, Hicks said.

“We’ve been telling people be careful who you give your Social Security number to,” he noted, “so a lot of people thought it was a scam or a solicitation.”

Hicks said the AG’s office has been getting about 15 calls a day since last Wednesday about the cards.

“I don’t think people realized that this is the way that they would be getting it,” said Hicks, who had just finished talking to an older woman Tuesday who couldn’t remember whether she received it or not.

“People are having trouble, they’ll call their bank to transfer it to their bank account and the banks don’t know what this is about — that’s what they’re saying anyway. There’s just a lot of confusion and some people are at a dead end,” Hicks said.

“Even if people kept the card and are trying to use it, some people are having frustration with that.”

The prepaid debit cards are supposed to be easy to use to get cash from automated transfer machines, transfer funds to a personal bank account and make online and retail location purchases where Visa cards are accepted. They can check their card balance online or by phone without any fees, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

However, Hicks said some people say they have incurred fees or must pay $7.50 to get a new card issued ($17 if they want it expedited) if they have mistakenly discarded, lost or misplaced the debit cards.

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Also, he said. “People are having trouble getting ahold of anybody” when they seek IRS assistance and “there’s a lot of fine print that people need to read with this card to avoid fees and things like that as well.”

Hicks said his office is directing Iowans to the https://www.eipcard.com/ or to https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/economic-impact-payment-prepaid-card/ for assistance.

“The problem is,” he said, “many people are having trouble getting through, and the automatic message is asking for the number on the card — which they do not have.”

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