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Some throw away $1,200 stimulus payment, mistaking it for junk mail

Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr has learned that bottom line -- the government wants that money back.

Prepaid debit cards create confusion after arriving from obscure sender

Some people who received their $1,200 stimulus through prepaid debit cards instead of paper checks are confusing the payments for junk mail and unwittingly tossing them in the trash, according to several news reports.

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There's no indication of how common the misperception might be after the U.S. Treasury announced last Monday that nearly 4 million taxpayers would receive stimulus payments through a prepaid debit card.

For taxpayers, there have been several paths to receiving the money.

While millions of Americans have already gotten their payment through direct bank deposits, millions of others got a paper check through the mail.

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The debit cards were introduced as a way to expedite the payments to residents without bank information on file with the IRS.

But at least one couple who expected to get a paper check say they were completely blindsided by the switch.

Thomas and Bonnie Moore of southwest Florida said they cut up their stimulus debit card, thinking they would receive a check in the mail from the Treasury.

"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, according to WINK News. "The next thing you see is I am in the garbage can trying to pull out all of the pieces together, which did not work," Moore said. "It looks like a bunch of little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle."

Explore»MORE: IRS warns of coronavirus stimulus check scams 

Their neighbor, Jay Bender, complained the envelope in which his Economic Impact Payment Card arrived was nondescript, with no official insignia of the federal government.

He told WINK News he received it recently from "Money Network Cardholder Services," which had a return address in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Doesn’t sound like the federal government to me,” he said.

On its website, the IRS provided some clarity: “If you receive an Economic Impact Payment Card, it will arrive in a plain envelope from ‘Money Network Cardholder Services.’ The Visa name will appear on the front of the Card; the back of the Card has the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A.”

In Texas, a Belton woman nearly tossed her $1,200 stimulus debit card  after the envelope appeared to be everyday junk mail, according to KCEN 6 News. She, too, said she was expecting a paper check, and that the card arrived from Money Network Cardholder Services.

Vicki Wade told 6 News that she was worried the card was a scam and that "activating the card required her to give her name, address and Social Security number to an automated system."

Why we picked this story

At our morning team huddle, we discuss stories that are “talkers.” People are primed to look for driving forces in the world, ones that we can explain through our collective experience. This is one example.

In Iowa, dozens called the Attorney General’s Office last week, thinking the debit card was a scam.

"We really got a lot of calls Thursday, Friday, and people were very confused wondering what these were," said Lynn Hicks, communication director for the Iowa Attorney General's Office, according to WHO-TV NBC 13. "So we started talking internally and decided that we better get the word out because we were hearing from people that thought they were a scam. They were throwing these in the garbage."

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Those who receive the prepaid debit card can get cash from ATMs, transfer funds to a personal bank account, make online and retail location purchases where Visa is accepted and can check their card balance online or by phone without any fees, according to the Internal Revenue Service. MetaBank is the bank issuing the card, and its name should be displayed on the back of the card.

“This free, prepaid card also provides consumer protections available to traditional bank account owners, including protections against fraud, loss, and other errors,” according to the Treasury Department’s website.

There are, however, some minimal fees associated with using the card. One of the charges is $7.50 for a replacement card, according to reports.

The Money Network said a person may replace a lost or stolen card by calling 1-800-240-8100. For information on card replacement fees, click here.