Here's how to find out if your stimulus card is real or fake

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- Millions of Americans are now receiving their $600 stimulus payments -- but many are skeptical about what they're getting in the mail. Eight million payments were issued on debit cards and mailed in plain white envelopes. Many mistake it for junk mail. Others suspect it's a scam.

An East Bay woman threw hers in the recycle bin -- then thought better of it and contacted 7 On Your Side.

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The government bombarded us with warnings about scams... then sent out debit cards that seem suspicious. So, that debit card you got in the mail -- is it for real?

"And I said, 'This has gotta be a scam, why are you sending me a card?'" To Karen Peterson of Richmond, the plain white envelope looked like junk mail -- or maybe even a scam.

And the debit card inside seemed a little fishy too.

"It makes me suspicious when I get cards in the mail. I get them a lot from different credit card companies," said Peterson.

The insert said it was her economic impact payment -- but last year's payment came in a paper check -- so this didn't seem right.

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"Why would they change the normal way they send us our money?" she asked.

A sticker on the front said to call an 800 number to activate the card. She found she'd have to provide the last six digits of her Social Security number -- which made her even more suspicious.

So, she did what seemed safe.

"I threw it in the recycle bin that we have," Peterson admitted.

Little did she know she just threw out six hundred dollars from the federal government! Or... she almost did.

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Something made her wonder -- maybe it's real?

"I pulled it back out and I just started reading it over and over and over again," she said.

Teresa Murray of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says the plain envelope may be to deter theft.

"I'll be interested to know how many people think that they didn't get stimulus money because they accidentally threw it away," said Murray.

"They don't put on the outside, 'Hey! Stimulus money!' -- that kinda makes sense," she continued. Yet it also makes it look fake.

RELATED: Some missing second stimulus check and last year's tax refund wonder if problems are related

On top of that, many folks are wary about giving out their Social Security and other personal data to an unknown, toll-free number.

"I don't like to do that for any reason if I can avoid it. So that made it more suspicious," Peterson said.

So how will you know if your debit card is for real?

First, the cards come in this envelope with the U.S. Department of the Treasury seal in the return address.

The cards are issued by Meta Bank; it's a blue card with gold stars, a Visa logo, a security chip and a three-digit security code on the back.

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And the surest way to know you're calling the actual bank and not a scam? You activate the card by calling only this toll-free number: 1-800-240-8100.

Don't call any other.

You will have to provide the last six digits of your Social Security number, the debit card number, and the security code.

You may also have to provide your name, address and date of birth, or even answer some security questions.

And yes, Meta Bank does share your information for marketing purposes.

Also, be wary -- the cards are mostly free but come with a slate of "possible" fees to get your money out -- if you're not careful.

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All "swipes" for purchases are free. Withdrawing money at a non-network ATM is free the first time, but will cost you $2 dollars for everyone after that.

And an in-bank withdrawal is free the first time and $5 after that.

To find out if your ATM is in-network, you have to go to their website's ATM locator.

All of this makes Peterson miss the old days.

"Why not print the checks? It'd be so much easier," she wondered.

Consumer groups warn there are still many scams out there. Do not respond to calls, texts or emails saying they're the government, or offering your payment for a fee.

Here's the verified toll free number to activate the card:
1-800-240-8100

Visit the IRS's Economic Impact Payment webpage:
www.irs.gov/eip

Visit the Economic Impact Payment money network and banking website for prepaid cards:
www.eipcard.com

Find an in-network ATM to avoid fees:
www.eipcard.com/locator/

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE! 7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.
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