25 Investigates: IRS provides instructions on how to return stimulus checks sent to the dead

Federal government mistakenly sent stimulus checks to Americans who have died

Update: As of April 30, almost 1.1 million payments totaling nearly $1.4 billion had gone to people who have died.

On Thursday, June 25, the Government Accountability Office released a breakdown of where the stimulus money went, along with some recommendations on improving the system to reduce the risk of fraud and mistaken payments.

Previous update: President Trump’s Administration has acknowledged these checks were issued in error. The administration did not say how many mistaken checks went out or how much taxpayer money they account for. The Trump administration is asking anyone who received notice of a check in error should return the money by following instructions on the IRS website.

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BOSTON - 25 Investigates has learned the federal government mistakenly sent stimulus checks to Americans who have died.

Boston 25 News anchor and investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh spoke with a Framingham woman who recently got a shocking letter in the mail saying a $1,200 deposit had been made into her mother’s account. Her mother Mary Elise Zarilli had passed away in August.

Mary Connaughton: “It was kind of a shock, to tell you the truth, to see it. And, I knew I had to deal with it. The letter was addressed to her. It came to me because she was in a nursing home. So, her address became my address. It was a letter from the President saying that she had received $1,200 that was directly deposited into her bank account. I checked online and sure enough and there it was.”

Kerry Kavanaugh: “And, the government was notified of her passing?”

Mary Connaughton: “Clearly the Social Security Administration knew about the death because the checks stopped coming as you would expect.”

Kerry Kavanaugh: “Not only was it an unsettling discovery for you, but what is your broader concern?”

Mary Connaughton: “As I understand it there’s a lot of people that still haven’t received their stimulus checks that could be benefitting greatly by these. So, the question is how many went out, is it going to be returned.”

Kerry Kavanaugh: “Your mom taught you this is the right thing to do?”

Mary Connaughton: “My mother was as honest as they come. She was as ethical as they come and one thing I know is, she would want me to give this money back. Bottom line, you do what’s right.”

(Mary Connaughton)

Mary Connaughton, a CPA and director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, says she has made arrangements with her bank and the IRS for money to be returned. She continues to monitor the account.

After this story aired, Connaughton told Kavanaugh she received another check Friday, this time for her father, who died in 2018. Next to his name on the check, it says ‘DECD.’

(Boston 25 News)

Earlier this week Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal the money should be returned, but he didn’t say how.

A 2010 audit by the Office of the Inspector revealed this happened before. During the Great Recession, the Obama Administration sent nearly 71,688 checks to the deceased. But, that audit showed more than half, 41,000 were returned.

25 Investigates has reached out the Treasury Department. We will update this story when we hear back.

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