Hundreds of Austrians have received U.S. coronavirus stimulus checks despite being ineligible, according to The Washington Post.
Several of the recipients were puzzled to get the checks, including pensioner Manfred Barnreiter, 73, who said he believed he was the victim of a scam at first.
“We quietly went to the bank … where we were told they’ll see if it’s real,” Barnreiter told Austrian public broadcaster ORF. “Three days later, we had the money in our bank account.”
Barnreiter, who briefly worked in the U.S. in the 1960s, received the full $1,200, as did his wife. Neither are citizens of the U.S. or live there, which are required to be eligible for the checks.
“People initially thought it’s a treacherous form of fraud — but the checks were real,” a spokeswoman for Austria’s Oberbank told the Washington Post.
The report comes the month after NPR reported thousands of foreigners who once worked in the U.S. had accidentally received checks. Government officials attributed the error to likely tax return errors.
Three Austrian bank branches said that as of Wednesday, they had cashed approximately 200 American stimulus checks. None of the banks could say how many were cashed by people ineligible for the payments.
Barnreiter told ORF he would likely spend the money in the U.S. once travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic are relaxed.
“Initially, I felt bad, thinking, ‘Those poor Americans, maybe they need the money more urgently than we do here in Europe,” he said. ”But in the grand scheme of things," he said, “it’s peanuts.”