Card skimmers draining Bay Area residents' EBT benefits: Here's what to know

Melanie Woodrow Image
Wednesday, May 15, 2024
Card skimmers draining Bay Area residents' EBT benefits
7 On Your Side is digging into complaints from viewers that their EBT benefits were drained before they could use them.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Benefits taken from those most in need. 7 On Your Side is digging into complaints from viewers that their EBT benefits were drained before they could use them.

Jennifer Eversole is a mom of six kids with her seventh on the way.

"My fiancé works but we do need a little assistance," said Eversole.

"It's the difference between being able to provide for my family and not being able to," she continued.

Eversole says she receives cash and food benefits, but discovered someone else was draining the funds from her account.

"Every morning on the first, on the way to dropping my kids off at school I grab the rent (money) out of the ATM and 7-Eleven is just the most convenient one right there," said Eversole.

"There was a mom in front of me saying don't use this ATM, all of my benefits were stolen," she continued.

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When Eversole checked her account, she realized it had happened to her too. She immediately reported it and filled out the necessary paperwork to have her benefits replaced.

"They told me that this was happening to a lot of people, there was a ton of people in there that had their benefits taken as well," said Eversole.

But her resolution didn't last long.

"And the very next month, even though it was a new card and a new pin my benefits were taken again," said Eversole.

The Department of Social Services tells ABC7 News this type of EBT theft emerged in late 2021 and that skimming involves stealing the information through a device implanted on a card terminal.

"It is insanity," said Haywood Talcove, CEO of Lexis Nexis Risk Government Solutions Group.

"The USDA is still using a glorified hotel room key," Talcove said, comparing the EBT card from a security perspective.

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He says the crooks use skimming devices to duplicate card holders information and that a chip enabled card much like a credit card would be encrypted and safer.

"Until it's fixed, these criminals it's a feeding frenzy," said Talcove.

The National Grocers Association tells ABC7 News that California will likely be one of the first states to transition to chip cards, writing in an emailed statement quote, "The USDA and NGA are actively participating in developing the standards to allow this transition as soon as possible."

The California Department of Social Services says chip/tap card implementation is expected this summer.

Last year, California rolled out a mobile app called ebtEDGE to protect against benefit theft. It allows users to freeze their card when they're not using it, change their pin, block online and out-of-state transactions or request a replacement card. Cardholders using the mobile app can also enable touch ID or facial recognition to sign into their account.

Eversole started using the app after she was the victim of EBT theft multiple times.

"I'm hoping that this is going to prevent it," said Eversole.

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Talcove says it doesn't go far enough.

"A lot of people don't know about that yet and some of the food insecure guess what they don't have smart phones that are capable of downloading the app," said Talcove.

In the meantime, he says there are three ways people can protect themselves from EBT theft.

1) Go to bigger stores as opposed to smaller ones

Though, that's something the National Association Of Convenience Stores disputes.

"Unfortunately, fraudsters try to take advantage of businesses of all sorts. We think giving that kind of advice would give consumers in some ways a false sense of security and it would be bad for small businesses," said Doug Kantor, NACS General Counsel.

2) Change your pin after each time you use your card

3) Push down on the point of sale terminal to see if it feels like it has any give, a sign it may have a skimmer device on it.

MORE: Bay Area mom finds out scammer already claimed her tax refund. Here's what saved her

If it does --

"Don't put your card in," said Talcove.

"I feel like they're not really doing enough and I feel like it's not just affecting us it's affecting taxpayers," said Eversole.

"Thankfully we have a little bit to fall back on and family when that happens but there's some people that have nothing," she continued.

The California Department of Social Services says anyone who suspects they're a victim of EBT theft should contact their local county office. Cardholders can also contact EBT to cancel their card and request a new one.

There are systems in place to replenish stolen funds but for CalFresh benefits there are limits to two instances in a year, each up to two months worth of benefits replacement. DSS says there are no limits for CalWorks reimbursements.

If you're denied for reimbursement, you can ask for a state hearing.

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