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This Is What a Real Paper Stimulus Check Looks Like

With third round of stimulus payments going out, consumers are warned to beware of scammers

Stimulus Check: USA government check, payment

Getty Images

En español | Treasury Department officials have released a sample of the newest paper stimulus checks now being issued in the third round of coronavirus relief payments.

The checks are being mailed to eligible people who are not receiving funds through a prepaid debit card or direct deposit into a checking account. The “vast majority” of Americans will receive the funds via direct deposit, officials say.

You may check the Get My Payment tool on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website to see if a payment to you has been scheduled.

Under the third round of payments, eligible individuals will receive up to $1,400; married couples, up to $2,800; and another $1,400 for each qualified dependent regardless of age. But high earners will receive less relief, or none at all.


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Deter fraud: Know the stimulus check’s security features

Use AARP’s calculator to determine if you qualify in the third round of relief.

Officials say if you are eligible in this latest round — and have not received a direct deposit by March 24 — watch your mail carefully for either a paper check or a prepaid debit card.

Meantime, the top official at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency, has renewed a warning about COVID-related scams and noted that some scammers target stimulus payments.  “The FTC will use all of its enforcement authority to come after bad actors who try to take advantage of people anxiously awaiting relief,” Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, acting chairwoman of the FTC, said in a video timed to the passage of the federal law mandating the latest relief payments.  

The release of the prototype of the check is intended to deter counterfeiters by showing consumers, retailers and financial institutions what a genuine check looks like, describing the watermark paper and other security features.

New Stimulus Check - March 2021

Treasury Department

Sample image of the new stimulus check

Use AARP’s calculator to determine if you are eligible for the relief money. If you’re expecting a check, here are the security features:

1. Treasury seal

The seal says, “Bureau of the Fiscal Service.”

2. Bleeding ink

The Treasury seal, to the right of an image of the Statue of Liberty, has security ink that will run and turn red when moisture is applied to the black ink of the seal.

3. Microprinting

Microprinted words are so small they appear as just a line to the naked eye. But when magnified, the words become visible. Microprinting cannot be duplicated by a copier, and when a check is counterfeited it will often show up as a solid line or a series of dots. This U.S. Treasury check has one area on the back where “USAUSAUSA” appears repeatedly in such tiny print.

4. Watermark

All stimulus checks are printed on watermark paper that reads “U.S. TREASURY,” which can be seen from both the front and the back of the check when it is held up to a light. The watermark is light and cannot be reproduced by a copier. Any check not having the watermark should be suspected of being counterfeit or copied.

5. Ultraviolet overprinting

A protective ultraviolet pattern, invisible to the naked eye, consisting of four lines repeating the words “FISCAL SERVICE” will be bracketed by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service seal on the left and the U.S. seal — an eagle — on the right. This pattern usually may be found under the payee information and the dollar amount area. The FISCAL SERVICE pattern and seals can be detected under a black light. If the amount box is altered in any way, a space will be created in the ultraviolet area. When exposed to black light, the ink used in the pattern and the seal will glow. This fluorescent quality cannot be photocopied.

Deter Fraud: Know the Stimulus Check’s Security Features

To report a COVID-related scam, people are advised to contact their local law enforcement agency, the FTC, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), whose hotline number is 866-720-5721.

Katherine Skiba  covers scams and fraud for AARP. Previously she was a reporter with the  Chicago Tribune,  U.S. News & World Report, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a recipient of Harvard University’s Nieman Fellowship and is the author of the book, Sister in the Band of Brothers: Embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq. 

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 20, 2020. It has been updated with the new information on this round of stimulus checks.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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