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Don't Throw Your Stimulus Away With the Junk Mail

Millions of Americans will get their payments on prepaid debit cards, but they may think it's trash

A debit card on top of a website image

EIPCARD.COM (DEBIT CARD); IRS.GOV (WEBSITE)/AARP

Mike Ellison:

When Congress passed the CARES Act, an economic stimulus package designed to fight the financial impact of the pandemic, it included a key provision to issue $1200 payments to aid Americans.

While many have already received their payments by direct deposit or check, nearly 4 million people will receive their payments in the form of prepaid debit cards.

Today, we discuss everything you need to know about this debit card, why you might get a debit card instead of a direct deposit, and how scammers are trying to capitalize on the confusion.

Hi, I’m Mike Ellison with an AARP Take on Today.

The debit cards, called Electronic Impact Payment or EIP cards, are arriving in plain envelopes with the return address “Money Network Cardholder Services” from MetaBank in Omaha, Nebraska.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “That doesn’t really sound like a government payment,” Tom Krehely from Pasadena, Maryland might agree with you.

Tom:

“I was expecting a check. I was going through my mail and I thought the envelope it came in was trash and I tore it in half and put it in my recycle bin.”

Mike:

He is among the millions of Americans who have or will receive an EIP card. He wasn’t notified that it was coming in the mail, and naturally, was a bit suspicious.

Tom:

“I would’ve expected the envelope to be more clear that it was something important.”

Mike:

Luckily, Tom was able to get it back without having to call customer service. He’s activated it and is using it for its intended purpose: to relieve some of the financial stress brought on by the coronavirus.

But he wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t been able to retrieve it.

 Others have puzzled over this card as well, asking if it was a scam or if it was junk mail, or even why they received one at all.

That’s where our other guest today comes in -- Cristina Miranda from the Federal Trade Commission. She’s written blog posts about the Electronic Impact Payment – or EIP – card, which you can find at FTC dot gov slash blog, and she’ll help shed some light on this mysterious card for us.

Mike Ellison:

For millions of Americans, the electronic impact payment or the EIP card is how they receive their stimulus payment. However, the card's simple appearance seems to confuse so many people. Today we have Christina Miranda from the Federal Trade Commission to help us better understand this mysterious debit card. Christina has written blog posts about the EIP card, which you can find at ftc.gov/blog. Christina, thank you so much for making time for us.

Cristina Miranda:

Almost four million people across the US will be receiving EIP prepaid debit cards. EIP stands for economic impact payment cards, and those are prepaid debit cards that some Americans will be getting in the mail from the IRS instead of a direct deposit or check. They're meant to give relief due to the coronavirus epidemic. The government is sending some people these EIP cards if people qualified for a stimulus payment and the IRS couldn't direct deposit the payment. That's why they're receiving what essentially is a Visa prepaid debit card.

Mike Ellison:

I see. This is for people who were not able to receive a direct deposit. Perhaps they weren't already set up to receive direct deposit. When this debit card arrives, what does it look like when you receive it?

Cristina Miranda:

Sure. Many people might have already received their direct deposit or check, but if not, you really need to watch your mailbox for a Visa prepaid debit card and it's envelope in the mail. The envelope will be from Money Network Cardholder Service, that's Money Network Cardholder Service, and inside will be a Visa branded prepaid card issued by MetaBank. Now this is the card that's going to give access to your economic impact payment, and what we're advising people is that they should activate this card immediately.

Cristina Miranda:

There's a mailer that comes with the card and it's going to be giving you instructions on how to activate the card, but basically this is what you need to do. You activate the card by calling 240-8100 or by visiting usdebitcard.gov and clicking on the EIP card link that you see there. Now, we're warning people, since we are the FTC, that there's a step here that can be a little questionable, but to activate the card, you will have to give them your social security number. Remember, you are the one initiating the call. You're going to have to give them the social security number to activate the card, and once you activate it, you can get cash and use it anywhere that accepts Visa debit cards. There are no fees associated with transferring the money from the card to you personal bank account, but keep in mind that these EIP cards will expire after three years. When that happens, the bank is just going to send you any money left over from the card to you.

Cristina Miranda:

The other thing is that if anybody out there has any questions about the card, Money Network, which is the bank that issued the card, has a 24 hour call center. That number is 1-800-240-8100, once again, and you can also call to check your card balance or ask any questions. If you have any questions in general and you just need a broader overview about what this is, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a really great video that you can look at at consumerfinance.gov and it answers a lot of the questions you might have.

Mike Ellison:

Now, because we all receive a lot of spam or a lot of advertisements in the mail, what if someone didn't notice it, didn't know what it was, thought it was a typical bank trying to get you to open a new account and they ripped it up or they tossed it out? What happens then?

Cristina Miranda:

Yes. That's a really great question because we all do that. The advice is that if your card is permanently lost, stolen, or if you accidentally throw it away as junk mail, you need to call customer service at 1-800-240-8100; that same number that I gave you, and you need to report the lost or stolen card or the card that you threw away immediately. What happens then is that the card will be deactivated so nobody can use it and you'll be able to order a new replacement card. The first replacement card is free and any additional replacement cards after that are charged. You'll be charged $7.50. The other thing is that if you think you've only misplaced your card, you need to go to eipcard.com and lock your card to prevent any unauthorized transactions or ATM withdrawals while you look for it.

Mike Ellison:

Now, what if someone may have inadvertently thrown it out, but they don't even recall receiving it? Do you know what I mean? It could have just gotten mixed in with other spam that we get. If they call that number, can they call and say, "I'm just calling to see whether or not I've received the card. I may have thrown it out, not knowing that it was from the FTC."

 

Cristina Miranda:

Yes. Certainly. If you've accidentally thrown away the EIP card, you can call customer service, and this also applies to if you've lost it or if you've had it stolen, but if you've thrown it away, call customer service at 1-800-240-8100. That's 1-800-240-8100, and report the lost, stolen, or the thrown away card immediately. What I want to make clear is that once that happens, your card will be deactivated so nobody can use it and you will be able to order a new replacement card. Your first replacement card is free and any additional replacement cards will be charged $7.50.

Mike Ellison:

Fantastic. Well, thank you for that clarity. I think a lot of us will be calling just to make sure we didn't toss it away.

Cristina Miranda:

Oh, definitely. Yes. I can imagine so. We throw away a lot of things at our house that come as junk mail.

Mike Ellison:

Yeah. Sure. Okay. You've already covered how people activate it and that's fairly simple, and then you can transfer money to your bank account from that card, you can make direct purchases from that card. Are there any other features that people should know about?

Cristina Miranda:

Yeah, definitely. We received a lot of reports that some people who received these EIP cards are having trouble getting the money off the card into their bank accounts, especially due to COVID-19 concerns. They don't want to do that by visiting an ATM, for example. There are different steps that you can take to do that. Number one is activate your card as soon as you get it by calling the number I've been telling you about. It's 1-800-240-8100. Remember that you have to give your social security number or the individual taxpayer identification number if you have one as well. After you do that, go to eipcard.com to register for online access. There's also an app. If you're savvy enough to do that, sometimes I'm not, you can download the Money Network mobile app and register for mobile app access. From either place, you can click on register and then what you do is you follow the steps to create your user ID and password.

Cristina Miranda:

Now, you have to keep in mind that before you do this, you should have your routing and bank account number on hand to link your card to your bank account. The easiest way to find those numbers is simply by calling your bank, or you can also visit your bank's website. If you happen to also have an actual checkbook, which I still do, find the first nine numbers at the bottom of one of your checks. This is your routing number. Then the 10 to 12 numbers after that are your bank account number. Now, once your card and bank are linked, you choose move money out and follow the steps to set up what's called an ACH transfer. That's an electronic bank to bank money transfer that's processed through the automated clearinghouse network.

Mike Ellison:

Okay.

Cristina Miranda:

These transfers, whatever you do with that, should post to your bank account in one to two business days. It's worth remembering that the limit per each transfer is $2,500. That means that most people can transfer all their money off the card in one transaction, and if your card is lost or stolen, once again, the EIP card provider will give you one free replacement card.

Mike Ellison:

Have you heard of any scams associated with the debit card?

Cristina Miranda:

That's a really great question. After all, we are the Federal Trade Commission. We are the Nations Customer Protection Agency, so in terms of particular frauds, not yet, but the most important thing to know about fraud associated with the EIP cards is how to avoid them altogether in the first place.

Mike Ellison:

Okay.

Cristina Miranda:

Here is our advice. Unless you've asked for assistance, know that the federal government will never call, text, or email or ask you to click on a link that they sent to activate your card or to get your money. If somebody does, it's always a scammer. Don't give them your social security or debit card number or any other personal or financial information. Just don't. If this does happen to you, you need to report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Mike Ellison:

I think it's a general rule of thumb that any time you receive a call and then someone asked for information, chances are they're trying to scam you. Very rarely is any institution that you trust or work with or bank with going to call you and say, "Can I please have your social security number?" Is that fairly accurate?

 

Cristina Miranda:

That's true. That's why we also mentioned, unless you've asked for assistance from the federal government, that's maybe when they will call you, but they will never call you out of the blue. In general, anyone, yes, that calls you out of the blue, texts you, reaches out to you on social media, emails you or asks you to click on any link, pressures you into doing something to get money or to activate a card or whatever, it's usually a scammer. In fact, it's always a scammer, but simply don't give them any personal or financial information. You need to report any scam to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Mike Ellison:

Okay. Just to provide clarity for our listeners. Again, most of us are creatures of habit, so when we pull out a credit card or debit card, sometimes we use those interchangeably. This is not a card that if people use it they're going to get a bill later. This is not money that they're going to have to pay back later. This is a stimulus payment. Correct?

Cristina Miranda:

Yes, that's correct. You don't need to pay this back whatsoever and you can definitely use it wherever Visa is accepted. If it is a visa, a prepaid debit card, and it has the stimulus money on it, it's already being given to you, so no. You do not need to pay it back.

Mike Ellison:

Okay. Well, we appreciate it. Is there anything else related to the card or otherwise as it relates to the FTC and where we are as a nation with the Coronavirus and how people are coping? Is there anything else that you want to share with people?

Cristina Miranda:

Oh, yes. Definitely. Scammers follow the headlines and they definitely have been following the headlines related to everything related to COVID-19. We have set up a website, both in English and in Spanish, it's at ftc.gov/coronavirus. This is all the latest up to date information that we have about fraud and scams that are happening that are related to COVID-19. We are asking people to please visit that and click on some of our blogs. Please share some of the social media that we have on there. We have some videos that are shareable. Again, they're bilingual; they're both in English and Spanish and they talk about ways that you can avoid COVID-19 related scams. Also, we have videos about the avoiding economic impact relief scams as well that are going to be popping up. It's basically the general information that I've been saying. Anybody that calls, texts, emails you, please do not share any personal or financial information with them because it is a scammer and you need to report those scans directly to the FTC. Once again, that's ftc.gov/coronavirus. Once again, to file a complaint with us is ftc.gov/complaint.

Mike Ellison:

Thank you to our guest Cristina Miranda. We’ll link her blogposts in the shownotes. You can find additional information at the official EIP website at EIP card dot com or IRS dot gov. To learn how you can best protect yourself against scammers, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

If you liked this episode, email us at newspodcast@aarp.org

Thanks to our news team.

Producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

Production Assistant Brigid Lowney

Engineer Julio Gonzalez

Executive Producer Jason Young

And, of course, my co-hosts Bob Edwards and Wilma Consul.

For An AARP Take on Today, I’m Mike Ellison.

Thanks for listening.

Four million Americans will soon receive their stimulus payment, but not by direct deposit or check. Instead, they'll receive a prepaid debit card. On this week’s episode, an expert from the FTC clues us in about the Economic Impact Payment cards.

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