Savvy consumers typically have good reason to look twice if they receive a piece of mail promising a debit card from the federal government. However, as the U.S. Treasury continues to issue economic impact payments, or “stimulus checks,” to Americans affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it has begun mailing out prepaid debit cards for consumers whose banking information it doesn’t have. While these debit card mailings are legitimate, consumers should remain on the lookout for scams.
Most Americans already received their economic impact payment either by direct deposit to their bank account or in the form of a mailed check. However, the debit cards are being sent to some consumers for whom the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) did not have bank account information on file, typically because they did not opt for direct deposit of their income tax refund. The Treasury touts the cards, which can be used at ATMs and anywhere Visa cards are accepted, as more secure and efficient than checks.
The cards are being mailed in plain envelopes with a return address of “Money Network Cardholder Services.” They are Visa cards branded as The Economic Impact Payment Card, issued by MetaBank, NA. An included welcome kit gives more information, which can also be found at EIPcard.com. Once receiving a card and verifying its legitimacy, consumers should activate it by calling the number on the back and setting a four-digit PIN, then sign the card and keep it in a safe place.
Any calls, texts or emails consumers receive about these cards are likely phishing scams aimed at getting the card number or the recipient’s personal information. The U.S. Treasury states that the mailed cards are the only communication consumers will receive about their mailed payment.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker received nearly 5,000 reports of phishing scams in 2019, as well as more than 1,200 government grant scam reports. Tips for avoiding such scams:
●Do not pay any money to claim your economic impact payment card. If you have to pay money to claim "free" government funds, it is not really free. A real government agency will not ask you to pay an advanced processing fee.
●Be careful with unsolicited calls asking for your banking information. Scammers will cold call, asking basic questions to see if you qualify for a grant, and then ask for your banking information saying they need to collect a one-time processing fee and directly deposit your money.
●Verify everything independently. If something sounds suspicious in an unsolicited phone call, email or text message, confirm it by checking the U.S. Treasury website at treasury.gov or the IRS website at irs.gov. Don’t click on links in an unexpected email – type the URL into your browser or do a web search to find the right website. Call a trusted phone number for the agency other than one provided by the caller to verify the caller’s identity.
●Know your sender. Don’t click, download, or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.
●Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that don't contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information.
Report any scams to BBB Scam Tracker.
BBB has more COVID-19 scam alerts at bbb.org/coronavirus.
For assistance, go to bbb.org or call 417-380-5074.