Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
I guess Twain was trying to say history does not repeat itself exactly, but many of the same patterns tend to repeat themselves.
The third and largest round of Economic Impact Payments, better known as COVID-19 stimulus checks, will soon be distributed by the IRS, most likely by the end of this month.
To speed the delivery of those payments, the IRS will be mailing millions of prepaid debit cards to those who do not have a bank account on file with the agency. While this will be the third time the IRS uses this method of distribution of funds, the previous two distributions had their share of problems.
“To protect against potential fraud,” the first round of debit cards was discreetly sent in plain white envelopes from Money Network Cardholder Services of Omaha. Inside was a card issued by the Treasury’s financial agent, MetaBank. Many folks, expecting a paper check, were caught by surprise and were skeptical about the legitimacy of the card, thinking it could be junk mail or a scam.
At the time, we at the BBB received a rash of calls from folks suspecting the cards were part of a scam. Unfortunately, when we explained the cards were legitimate, we had several callers tell us they had thrown theirs away.
Just two days after the second stimulus package was signed into law on Dec. 27, the IRS began making direct deposits to eligible recipients’ bank accounts. A day after that, on Dec. 30, the agency said it began mailing paper checks and debit cards.
In an effort to avoid a repeat of the envelope’s confusing appearance in the first round of payments, the IRS decided to put the U.S. Department of the Treasury seal next to the envelope’s return address in the second round. However, the seal was extremely small and almost illegible, making it look like junk mail. Plus, there was a requirement to activate the card by phone verification and to provide the last six digits of the person’s Social Security number, not the last four digits, which is typical.
History rhyming? Once again, so many reasons to think it’s a scam!
As I said, the third round of stimulus payments will soon be distributed, with approximately 8 million Americans getting a debit card in their mailbox. Be prepared. Don’t automatically assume it is a scam or another piece of junk mail.
But be aware, whenever money is involved, scammers will be close behind, trying to fool you into parting with it. Take these steps to avoid losing your stimulus payment:
• Check your mail carefully. In the past, the envelope containing the EIP cards have been mistaken for junk mail.
• Follow the instructions on the letter you receive with the stimulus card explicitly, especially using the correct phone number. Scammers often set up bogus websites with fake customer service numbers to lure people into giving them their personal information, so don’t search the internet.
• The IRS, the Treasury Department nor any other federal agency will contact you by phone, email or text message about your stimulus funds. Anyone who does try to contact you using those methods is a scammer.
Don’t let history rhyme again. Be aware and be prepared.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.