Many of those checks were for deceased individuals. In such an unfortunate situation, the Internal Revenue Service has given notice that spouses or relatives will need to make time to return the funds to the agency. This, however, impacts only U.S. taxpayers who died before Jan. 1, 2021, and also the extra $1,400 per dependent is not available for a parent who died before that date.
There is one exception to the rule. The IRS has stated that if the person who died is a married member of the U.S. military, the surviving spouse is still eligible for the $1,400 stimulus payment.
One other group of people that needs to return the stimulus checks are nonresident aliens. In most cases, they are not considered U.S. citizens, don’t possess a green card, and often are not physically present in the United States for the required amount of time, the IRS said.
According to the law office of Stechschulte Nell, it is never a good idea to deposit a fraudulent stimulus check.
“If you have tried to deposit a dead or fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus check you may be charged with a federal crime such as bank fraud, mail fraud, or wire fraud. All of these are serious crimes, with long sentences of imprisonment or large fines,” the law office wrote.
“In some cases, people have been defrauded of their stimulus check, and when they try to deposit what they think is their real money, they may find that they have been a victim of a scam. Even though they are the victim, they may nonetheless be charged with a crime. Regardless of why you have been charged with fraud, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible,” it added.
Check fraud can also carry some hefty fines and possible imprisonment.
“There are serious consequences for committing check fraud. This can include a fine of up to $1 million, or you can be imprisoned for up to thirty years (or both). If you have been charged with depositing a dead or fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus check, this may be one of the charges you are faced with,” it said.
Moreover, be aware that some Americans might receive less than the $1,400 check or won’t be getting one at all. According to the details of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, stimulus check money cannot be garnished for unpaid federal debts or back taxes, but the $1,400 checks can indeed be garnished for unpaid private debts—such as medical bills or credit card debts—if they are subject to a court order.
Keep in mind that garnishment is a court order that allows for money to be removed from an individual’s bank account, and banks generally have to comply with a court’s demands.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.