Austria isn't part of the United States of America (last time we checked), but over the past few months, some Austrians have received assistance reserved only for US citizens and residents. They've been cashing checks sent to them as part of the $2 trillion US stimulus package, even if they're not Americans or don't currently live in the States. "People initially thought [it was] a treacherous form of fraud—but the checks were real," a spokeswoman for Austria's Oberbank, which has been fielding calls from confused customers, tells the Washington Post. "We quietly went to the bank ... where we were told they'll see if it's real," says a 73-year-old Austrian man who received a $1,200 check, as did his wife. "Three days later, we had the money in our bank account."
That man had worked for a short time in the US more than 50 years ago and still receives a small pension from that job—and situations like that may be underlying many erroneously issued checks. NPR reported last month that many visitors from abroad who come into the US on temporary work visas file their tax returns wrong, mistakenly using Form 1040 instead of 1040-NR. That could lead to them being classified as a resident, which could trigger a stimulus check. Of the hundreds of stimulus checks known to be cashed in Austria, it's unclear how many were legitimately issued to US citizens living overseas. But it's not just Austrians receiving an influx of US cash: One tax preparation company tells NPR it has customers hailing from 129 countries—including Canada, China, and Brazil—who've received the stimulus checks in error. (Read more Austria stories.)