The Internal Revenue Service said individuals who got a $1,200 stimulus payment intended for someone who’s deceased or incarcerated should return the money but left open the question of how the agency would enforce that.

Instructions posted to the IRS’s website Wednesday said recipients of what the Treasury Department calls “inadvertent” payments should write void on paper checks and mail them back.

Those who received direct-deposit payments or have already cashed the payments should send a personal check or money order to the IRS for the amount of the payment.

Deceased and incarcerated individuals do not qualify to receive Economic Impact Payments. See FAQ #41 to learn how to return an inadvertent payment:

— Treasury Department (@USTreasury) May 6, 2020

The instructions don’t say whether recipients are required to return the payments or what will happen to them if they don’t send the money back. The IRS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about how it plans to enforce the guidelines.

The instructions address an issue that gained attention last month when the stimulus payments passed by Congress in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak were first deposited into bank accounts: People in prison and family members of individuals who had died in the past several months were receiving payments.

While the federal government regularly updates taxpayer rolls with death certificate information, the IRS was relying on data that, in some cases, was from as long ago as 2018 for processing the payments.

Errors with stimulus payments -- and a lack of immediate answers on how to fix them -- are unavoidable as IRS workers had to move quickly to process billions of dollars of payments using old computer systems with most people working remotely, Chad Hooper, an IRS official and president of the Professional Managers Association, which represents agency managers.

“We’re just not going to be able to provide the level of service that our association members and employees want to provide,” he said Wednesday in a call with reporters. “We’re working very hard behind the scenes.”

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