Hundreds of Austrians have cashed US stimulus checks in the past few months, most of whom are ineligible for the $1,200 meant to help Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, The Washington Post reported.
NPR reported last month that thousands of foreign workers in other countries also received the stimulus check by mistake.
The glitch impacted people who were in the US on temporary work visas. Government officials and tax experts told NPR that sometimes foreign workers file incorrect tax returns.
Manfred Barnreiter, who is Austrian, used to work in the US and still receives a pension. Barnreiter and his wife told public broadcaster ORF that they both received checks although neither are US residents or citizens.
He initially thought the check was part of a fraud scheme.
“We quietly went to the bank … where we were told they’ll see if it’s real,” Barnreiter told ORF. “Three days later, we had the money in our bank account.”
Barnreiter said he planned to spend the money in the US once the travel restrictions are eased.
One tax preparation firm said clients in 129 countries received the checks by mistake, NPR reported.
Officials also told NPR that cashing the check while being ineligible could result in visa changes and trouble re-entering the US.
It’s unclear how many of these checks there are and how many have been cashed, but according to The Post they most likely only account for a “small fraction” of the overall $2 trillion stimulus package.
In late March, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic in the US. As millions of Americans filed for unemployment the package included sending direct payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans and also boosting unemployment benefits.
According to The Post, Austrian banks also confirmed that residents received these checks.
Gerald Meissl, a senior official with Upper Austria’s Sparkasse bank, told The Post that some Austrians who worked as au pairs in the US and recently returned back to Austria got the checks too.
“People initially thought it’s a treacherous form of fraud — but the checks were real,” a spokeswoman for Austria’s Oberbank told The Post.
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