‘I almost threw it away’: Stimulus payments safe amid fears of scam

January 19, 2021

As 8 million Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) are distributed across the country, a growing number of people fear they’re being scammed due to the appearance of the envelope.

When Bayside resident Pete Oringer received his stimulus payment last week, he thought it was junk mail. “I almost threw it away but I hesitated and I threw it on a pile,” he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service began distributing EIP cards and checks during the second week of January following millions of payments already made by direct deposit. Although the white envelope reads in big red letters, “Not a bill or an advertisement. Important information about your Economic Impact Payment,” it could easily be overlooked as spam, Oringer said.

“I think that the overwhelming thing is it should have had more identifiable or significant federal seals or statements on it,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what it said within the body of the letter, but even the card doesn’t have that. You know, it says activate your card and that doesn’t mean anything if you have an unsolicited card. There’s nothing on the front or back, that leads you to the authenticity of it.”

The return address is accompanied by a U.S. Treasury Department seal, but it is somewhat difficult to see. Inside of the envelope, the Visa card is attached to a folded piece of paper that explains how to activate the card and provides a summary of related terms and fees.

“When I first saw it I said, ‘I don’t know if this thing is legit,’ ” said Tri Counties Banks home mortgage specialist Matthew Owen. “Some people are getting their payment and throwing it away because they think it’s a scam.”

Owen urged unsure community members to bring their EIPs to their bank to ensure it is real. “Every bank in town gets bad checks daily, there are scammers out there constantly. So, if it’s taken to your bank first and they say it’s legit, go ahead and call the number,” he said.

If sent a Visa card, the recipient must call the listed phone number and enter the card number, the last six digits of their social security number and create a PIN. Once activated, the card can be used like a debit card or the funds can be transferred to a separate account.

“I will admit, I’m scratching my head a bit,” said North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) in a phone call with the Times-Standard on Tuesday morning. “I don’t know why the Treasury Department chose to use so many debit cards this time around, but I am confident that they are safe and secure. People should use them as soon as they get them.”

Though Huffman criticized the federal government’s decision to allow Visa to “presumably take a cut out of every single one of these millions of transactions,” he said the cards are legitimate.

“IRS and Treasury urge eligible people who don’t receive a direct deposit to watch their mail carefully during this period,” according to the IRS website. “Taxpayers should note that the form of payment for the second mailed EIP may be different than the first mailed EIP. Some people who received a paper check last time might receive a prepaid debit card this time, and some people who received a prepaid debit card last time may receive a paper check.”

People waiting to receive their EIP payment can find out if their card has been mailed at irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.

By:  Isabella Vanderheiden
Source: Eureka Times-Standard