Austrian banks report that confused customers are receiving U.S. stimulus checks

Blank U.S. Treasury checks.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When Manfred Barnreiter, a 73-year-old man in Austria, received a $1,200 check from the U.S. government, he was certain it was a scam.

Barnreiter and his wife, who was also sent a check, went to their bank and asked some questions. A few days later, Barnreiter told the Austrian broadcaster ORF, the checks cleared. The Barnreiters are not eligible for the $1,200 coronavirus stimulus payments — they are not U.S. residents and do not have U.S. citizenship. Barnreiter said he did briefly work in the U.S. in the 1960s and receives a small pension from that job, but that's his only connection to the country.

The Washington Post reports that Barnreiter and his wife are among the hundreds of Austrians who are known to have received stimulus checks from the United States. One bank, Sparkasse, told the Post that several customers who recently worked as au pairs in the United States have come in and cashed stimulus checks. A spokeswoman for another financial institute, Oberbank, told the Post, "People initially thought it's a treacherous form of fraud — but the checks were real."

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Government officials told NPR last month that some foreigners are receiving stimulus checks despite not being eligible, and blamed the erroneous payments on the people improperly filing tax returns. Barnreiter told ORF when he cashed his check, he felt "bad," and thought, "Those poor Americans, maybe they need the money more urgently than we do here in Europe." But, he decided that the amount is "peanuts," and plans on spending his $1,200 in the United States when he's able to visit again.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.