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DES MOINES, Iowa — Last week the IRS announced that instead of a stimulus check or direct deposit, about four million people would instead receive their stimulus money on a prepaid debit card.

It was an announcement that was largely missed as dozens of Iowans called the Attorney General’s Office thinking the debit card was a scam.

“We really got a lot of calls Thursday, Friday, and people were very confused wondering what these were. So we started talking internally and decided that we better get the word out because we were hearing from people that thought they were a scam. They were throwing these in the garbage,” said Lynn Hicks, communication director for Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

The cards are causing great hardship for people like Joni Madsen from Audubon, who says her parents, aged 90 and 95, would not have been able to access their $2,400 without additional help.

“My dad had this card. And he goes, ‘can you figure this out.’ He’s a World War II vet, and he can’t see or hear very well. He has no computer skills. So I said, that’s a credit card and he goes, ‘well, I read over this with my magnifying glass and it says that my stimulus payment,’” said Madsen.

Madsen has spent over an hour on the phone trying to activate the card but has still not been able to access the funds. She says she has consistently been kicked off the phone by the automated menu, which repeatedly says it does not recognize the prepaid card. 

“They said that account does not exist. That’s not the right email we have for this account, and my dad is sitting there and he’s confused,” said Madsen.

Hicks says the IRS has announced that they will be staffing the call center in the near future to assist people. So far, Madsen has only had interaction with the automated messaging system and says it’s frustrating to think other seniors may be going through the same experience.

“This is my opinion. But why are they singling out the elderly population and giving this kind of high tech thing for them to figure out … are they hoping that they get thrown away so then they don’t pay the $2,400 in stimulus money?” said Madsen.

Although the card is mostly free, there are still various transaction fees varying from 25 cents to $5. If you lose the card, it will cost you $7.50 to replace it.

“It’s just important that people be able to recognize that this is their money. This is the stimulus check that they may have been expecting. But to be able to recognize what these cards look like,” said Hicks.

Madsen says she’s grateful that members of her community reached out to help figure out how to withdraw funds for her parents, but she is hoping to raise awareness for others in the senior community who might miss their stimulus payments completely because of the complex activation process.

“Perhaps if you are not living in the same town with elderly parents and they have not yet gotten their stimulus money, see if a neighbor or a relative can go over and check with them, a trusted friend, to make sure that they didn’t throw it away,” said Madsen.

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