Some people are mistaking their stimulus payment for junk mail

Photo (c) keira01 - Getty Images

A shift to sending prepaid debit cards in plain white envelopes is causing confusion

As it sends economic impact payments to Americans, the Treasury Department has shifted from sending paper checks to prepaid debit cards that many recipients are apparently mistaking for junk mail.

Reports have begun to circulate on social media about recipients cutting up the cards or tossing them in the trash, unaware that the card contains their long-awaited payment.

Zack Stanton, the editor of Politico, was one of the recipients having a close call. He took to Twitter to caution others to be very careful before discarding unwanted mail.

“No idea if this is any indication of others' experiences with their coronavirus stimulus money, but I almost threw mine out with the junk mail,” he tweeted. “The return address was "Money Network Cardholder Services," no indication it's from the govt/U.S. Treasury.”

The mailing does in fact look much like a credit card solicitation because it’s coming from a similar company, not the Treasury Department. Consumers are accustomed to receiving money from the government in distinctive checks in tan envelopes with the Treasury Department’s return address.

What to look for

Many Americans got their payments in that form, but the government says about 4 million people are receiving payments on debit cards. They come in plain white envelopes with the return address: Money Network Cardholder Services, PO Box 247022, Omaha, NE 68124-7022.

Others posting on social media say they had not heard anything about the change in the way payments were being made. Most people got their money in the form of a direct deposit because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is sending out the payments, had their banking information on file.

The IRS says it will mail a letter about the economic impact payment to the taxpayer’s last known address within 15 days after the payment is paid. The letter will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive the payment.

No explanation

Earlier this week, the IRS posted a notice on its website that some taxpayers would get their economic impact payment in the form of a prepaid debit card and not a check, but it did not explain why.

“The determination of which taxpayers receive a debit card was made by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, another part of the Treasury Department that works with the IRS to handle distribution of the payments,” the tax agency said in the notice.

Bonnie Moore and her husband Thomas were expecting their payment to be in the form of a direct deposit. She told WINK-TV in Fort Myers, Fla., that they instead received the debit card this week and decided it was yet another piece of junk mail.

“My husband looked at it, briefly read it and he said, ‘Do you want this?’ And I said, ‘I don’t need another fake card,’ so he cut it up in little pieces,” she said.

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