Question: We got an unsolicited debit card in the mail. At first and second glance, it seemed a complete fraud — not only because it got my name wrong. The use of Department of Treasury logos, the come-on to sign up for a credit card, the teaser, “Enclosed is your Economic Impact Payment Card” — the whole mailer seemed suspicious. Well, we went to CNET’s website, and apparently this thing is real. Two things: We didn’t apply. And, well, I almost threw it out. Others might feel confused too. It says a lot about where we are that even an apparently legit government communication feels like a con. Maybe this should/can be explained to help others? Is this a real stimulus payment?
Answer: Yes, you have received a genuine Economic Impact Payment card, and you are far from the only recipient to think it was a scam or junk mail. It’s no wonder people are wary: The federal government is sending out millions of these prepaid debit cards in plain envelopes at the same time it’s warning people to be alert for stimulus scams.
First, the basics, from the Internal Revenue Service:
Nationwide, about 4 million people for whom the IRS lacked direct deposit information are receiving their Economic Impact Payments, commonly known as “the stimulus,” as prepaid Visa debit cards, rather than as paper checks. (When you said you hadn’t applied, you were referring to the fact that you had not supplied the IRS your bank account information for an electronic direct deposit).
These cards arrive by U.S. mail in a plain envelope from “Money Network Cardholder Services.” The Visa name appears on the front of the debit card, and the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A., appears on the back. MetaBank is the U.S. Treasury Department’s financial agent in this program. Information enclosed with the card explains that it is the stimulus payment, and directs recipients to EIPcard.com for more information.
Another reader who contacted Kokua Line after you was thrown by the .com address (indicating a commercial website), expecting instead a .gov address associated with the IRS or another government agency. The .com website is legitimate, associated with Money Network Financial LLC, which is managing the debit cards for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service.
To activate the card, call 800-240-8100 (TTY: 1-800-241-9100). You’ll be asked to input the card number, the last six digits of your Social Security number and the three-digit security code on the back of your card. You may be asked for other information as well, such as your name and address. You’ll also need to create a four-digit PIN so you can use the card at ATMs and get account information over the phone. For cards with more than one name, paying joint tax filers, only the primary cardholder (listed first) may activate the card.
This brings us to another element of your question: You are listed first but your surname is incorrect; your wife’s different surname is given instead. This error apparently is common, as it’s listed in the website’s FAQs, which say, “In a few instances, the first name of one payee is linked to the last name of a second payee on the card. For mismatched names, the payee with the first name on the first line must activate the card and/or validate identity to continue activation.” We followed up with you Thursday, and you were able to activate the card despite the name discrepancy.
Q: What if someone throws the card away?
A: Call Customer Service at 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) and select the “Lost/Stolen” option. The card will be deactivated and a replacement ordered. There’s no fee the first time, but any replacement after that will cost $7.50, the website says.
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.