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More than 100 Austrians ‘accidentally’ received US coronavirus stimulus money



Experts say it’s likely the result of an administrative error.

More than 100 coronavirus stimulus checks from the U.S., each worth at least $1,200, have been cashed at banks across Austria in recent days, the country’s public broadcaster ORF reported Monday.

Among the recipients was 73-year-old retiree Manfred Barnreiter from Linz. He told ORF that when he found a check labeled “economic impact payment, President Donald J. Trump” in his mail, he “thought it’s pretty interesting — let’s bring it to the bank.” He received the money three days after cashing it.

Barnreiter said while he doesn’t know why he qualified for a stimulus check — which the U.S. government began sending out to taxpayers in spring to cushion the economic fallout from the pandemic — he believes it’s because he worked in New Jersey as a waiter for a few years in the 1960s and as a result receives a small pension from the U.S.

However, he said his wife also received a stimulus check without having ever traveled to the U.S. (The U.S. payouts were limited to $1,200 per person but $2,400 per couple if their most recent tax return showed they jointly made less than $150,000.)

Austrian bank managers told media the checks had likely been sent overseas by mistake. Gerhard Meißl, head of data quality and digitalization at Upper Austria’s Sparkasse bank, told the newspaper Kurier that some recipients had at one point been U.S. taxpayers while others, including some former au-pairs, had lived in the U.S. for some time.

Paul Kaiser, head of portfolio management at Linz’s Raiffeisen bank branch, said the unexpected payouts were likely due to an administrative error, noting that the U.S. had also accidentally sent out checks to deceased citizens.

Austria is not an isolated case. In August, NPR reported that some checks had accidentally been sent to foreign workers who had entered the country on temporary work visas and were now cashing the checks in their home nations.

Kaiser said that it was possible — albeit unlikely — that the U.S. will want the money back.

At least some of the money might end up back in the U.S. anyway, however: Barnreiter has told Austrian media that he and his wife were planning to go on a trip to the U.S. once the coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted.