Stimulus checks the government promised to millions of Americans during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic began arriving Wednesday – including some for people who are no longer living, multiple reports said.
Social media posts around the country report relatives of the deceased were notified Wednesday of a direct deposit in their loved ones’ accounts, despite some banks’ websites crashing from the heavy traffic, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Now, those relatives are wondering what to do, the report said.
“Will they want the $1,200 back?” a widow whose husband died last year asked on Twitter after she received the full $2,400 payment for married couples.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Internal Revenue Service website didn’t have guidelines for the payments sent in error to the deceased.
Back in 2009, the Obama administration passed a $13 billion economic stimulus package to combat the Great Recession with about 89,000 checks worth $250 each sent to dead and incarcerated people, The Atlantic reported.
A 2010 audit by the Office of the Inspector General and the Social Security Administration found 71,688 of those checks went to the deceased. But 41,000 checks issued at that time in error were returned, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Spending Social Security money issued to someone else is illegal in the U.S. — but is “rarely prosecuted for small amounts,” the report said.
“At least one person has been prosecuted for cashing a stimulus check not issued to them, in one of the few accusations of stimulus fraud to date,” the Journal reported in 2010.
To ensure fraud is kept to a minimum, the SSA consults what’s known as the “Death Master File” to prevent identity fraud.
However, a 2010 audit found some deaths were reported after the administration certified the stimulus payments, and the SSA “relied on questionable data” or failed to review all available records — such as the “Numident for death information,” which is used to compile the Death Master File.
Approximately $12 million in mistaken payments from 2009 was never returned, the Journal reported.