WSAZ INVESTIGATES | Stimulus check slip-ups

Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT
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In a rush to get out stimulus checks, the federal government admits it made some key mistakes in allowing improper payments to be made.

"What in the world is going on with this?" said Marsha Duke. "This is ridiculous, this woman is dead and, of course, I'm thinking this is a little strange."

Some of those mistakes include checks that were sent to deceased taxpayers while many Americans await those critical dollars.

"There's so many other people out there that need that check, and they're not getting it," Duke said.

Millions of Americans are still waiting for their stimulus checks. But not Duke. She got hers direct deposited into her bank account weeks ago, and then some.

"I texted my brother and said, 'you're never going to believe what I got in the mail today,' " Duke said.

She lost her mom in February of 2018 and just days after receiving her own stimulus payment, she found a letter in the mail from the U.S. Treasury Department. Inside was a $1,200 check for her mother and following her name, four letters, DECD meaning Deceased.

"It makes you dumbfounded because you can't believe something like that happens," Duke said.

The check was also addressed to Marsha, followed by EXEC or executrices of the estate, meaning she could've likely cashed the check herself. She chose not to but wonders if others in her situation would be so honest.

"I'd really like to know how much money they're going to get back," Duke said.

The IRS estimates checks will continue to be processed through August, leaving more time for error. It's also not the first time the government has sent money to dead people. Thousands of deceased Social Security beneficiaries got stimulus checks after the financial crisis of 2008.

Certified public accountant Stephen Burcham remembers the problems following that round of funding.

"Unfortunately in the rush to get the stimulus out, they've overlooked several small items such as that, and it's unfortunate that that does happen," Burcham said.

Investigators with the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced in April that they believe at least 125 inmates in the state tried to receive COVID-19 stimulus funds meant for U.S. works and families.

Fifty-nine of them are serving life sentences for first-degree murder. The IRS has called for those payments to be returned since inmates aren't eligible for that money under the CARES Act. The state hasn't released how many actually received funding, while others like Stephen are still waiting.

"People have been anxious to receive their payments," Burcham said. "A lot of people have been significantly impacted, and for some people it means the difference between being able to eat and maybe not."

The mistake also applies to joint filers, married couples who filed taxes together and got a direct deposit of their stimulus money.

According to the IRS if one spouse has died, the surviving spouse should return the portion of the payment made for the deceased spouse.

"Talk about depressing, that would be really hard to deal with," Duke said.

She kept the check for a few days until she could figure out what to do with it, because initially she was getting mixed messages. On May 6, the IRS finally posted information on their site asking those affected to return the check via mail.

She says her mother always seemed to have it together. She's thankful she was raised with a good head on her shoulders and a supportive mom whose likely laughing about it from up above.

"She's still bringing in money and she doesn't even have to worry about it," Duke said.

For some, it's waiting for checks that can't come soon enough, while others are faced with the burden of having to return something they wish they'd never received.

The government isn't saying how many incorrect payments were sent out or what steps they're taking to recover the money. The IRS has listed instructions on their website about how to return a check, depending on what state you're in.