BALTIMORE — Thieves are stealing money given to families through federal aid programs. A few hours after SNAP and cash benefits are deposited on their EBT cards, they are withdrawn from their accounts.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii reported on this increase in stolen benefits and the failure of the Maryland Department of Social Services to reimburse victims.
RELATED: Families lose food and cash assistance to thieves; state says unable to replace benefits
A spokesperson for the agency said it was unable to reimburse victims with federal funds, however, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger’s office confirmed that states have the option of replacing benefits by local or state funds. The DC Department of Social Services currently does.
Meanwhile, the problem is getting worse.
“The whole room, the whole building, it felt like bingo in there,” Jamee A. recalled of his visit to the Penn-North Center of the City of Baltimore Department of Social Services.
Except no one wants to part with this game. Counseling is for victims whose food or cash benefits have been stolen.
“Someone said to me, ‘They just took $800 from me.’ A girl said, “You too? They got me for [$600].’ And I’m sitting in the back and I’m like, ‘No baby, they got me for $2,200.’ The whole room went silent,” said Jamee, who asked that we not use his last name.
Jamee’s Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) was stolen twice. Two months in a row at the same distributor.
It first happened on May 1 at the Wells Fargo ATM located at 725 Eden Street in Harbor East at 1:36 a.m. And it happened again on June 2 at 2:38 a.m. Both times, Jamee has stated that she slept with the card in her possession. .
WMAR-2 News has received emails from several other victims whose benefits were taken from that same ATM, including two women who lost more than $1,400.
The Baltimore Police Department confirmed it received reports of four people between April 2 and May 2 who lost more than $2,200. Economic Crimes believes this is the work of the same person who skimmed and then cloned the victims’ cards.
Combined with emails WMAR-2 News has received from other victims, the total exceeds the $5,000 taken from this location.
“What’s going on? And now, watch out, I got a brand new map, a brand new pin,” Jamee said.
And it’s not a game. This money is reserved for basic expenses.
“Bills. We eat with it until the food stamps come. There were a lot of people there and a lot of them were upset because their fridges and things were empty,” Jamee said.
Stephany Deloatch uses her money to care for her five children, but this month someone across the country ripped it away from her.
“'[I had] $940 taken from my card at 1:13 a.m. in Los Angeles, CA,” Deloatch said.
She called the number on the back of her Independence card and said a customer service representative told her there were several attempted transactions before it was completed.
“When the transaction is not approved, shouldn’t the card be locked?” asked Deloatch.
The Maryland Department of Social Services is warning customers about this spike in fraudulent activity.
WMAR-2 News has obtained data showing an increase in reports each month. Last May, 11 cases were reported. As of May, there were more than 109. About 800,000 families receive benefits in Maryland.
State senators are now turning their attention to this issue.
On June 8, Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) sent DHS Secretary Lourdes Padilla a letter expressing concern about the recent influx of fraud cases and the state’s response. He wrote in part:
“Marylanders are currently deprived of the provisions they need to survive, and the state is deprived of its own resources. Our citizens need not only justice: they need transparency and initiative. The beneficiaries of the SNAP should not be forced to sacrifice household necessities and the implementation of meticulous security measures because the Department of Social Services does not respond reasonably.These citizens need our help the most.
The ministry acknowledged receipt of his letter, but has yet to respond.
Senator Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard and Carroll Counties) is the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Biotechnology, and met with DHS following the WMAR-2 initial report News on this issue.
“Personally, I think the state should explore how we can restore the integrity of these people. There’s nothing stopping the state from spending state money at a time when we have a $7 billion surplus to reimburse these people,” Hester said.
And she has questions for Conduent, the vendor that supplies the EBT boards.
“Why don’t they stop at the first sign of an illegal withdrawal? Why don’t they arrest him and reimburse the victims? Hester asked.
She is now awaiting responses from Conduent and DHS.
“I have no intention of letting this go because it’s money that belongs to the people of Maryland who need it,” Hester said.
Sofastaii also sent a list of questions to DHS and Conduent.
A spokesperson for Conduent did not respond directly to questions about the security upgrade, but wrote:
“The privacy and security of cardholder information is of critical importance to Conduent, and we have robust measures in place for our customers to help prevent fraudulent activity, complying with all regulations and compliance with industry standards. We also take all suspected cases of fraud very seriously, and we work in partnership with our customers and provide the necessary tools to report and track such cases. As the ministry said of Social Services, there has been a nationally reported increase in attempts by fraudsters to target EBT and other benefit programs, and the State of Maryland is working with federal authorities to investigate and hopefully the, catch and prosecute offenders.
DHS Secretary Lourdes Padilla declined to speak to Sofastaii. WMAR-2 News is also awaiting responses to questions sent last week.
DHS said it refers victims to other resources such as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, but to be eligible, Deloatch said she was told she would have to wait for a notice. of deportation.
“It was never me. My rent is always on time and if it’s not on time, it’s early,” Deloatch said.
Jamee said she was turned back to the DHS office with a group of other victims.
“They’re not saying anything but we can’t do anything,” Jamee said.
With unreliable security and no fraud protection, the only other option for customers is to get their money first.
“All I know is at 11:59 p.m. next month I’ll be at the ATM,” Jamee said.
And if they lose, it’s up to them to qualify for the next month.
“I wake up every morning crying and looking for a way to put my pride aside to ask for help,” Deloatch said.
Congressman Ruppersberger’s office added that it’s concerned no one really quantifies the extent of the problem at the federal level. They are now exploring legislative solutions to clarify to states that federal law does not prohibit reimbursement to victims.
If you are a victim of this crime, you are advised to follow the steps below:
- Report any EBT fraud to your local police department and submit a copy of the police report to your local department of social services.
- Contact your local elected officials. You can find their information by clicking here. Type your address under the “search” tab and you’ll have the option to email all lawmakers checked.
- Fill out this form if you would like to speak to Mallory about this issue.
- Change your PIN often. You can do this today by calling the number on the back of your EBT card. You can also change your PIN online.
- If you use your benefits for online purchases, make sure you have a strong password (which is not easy to guess). It is also advisable to change your password at least once every three months.
- Only use a USDA-approved payment provider for cash transactions. For more information on USDA approved vendors, click here.
- If you use an ATM, examine the card slot to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with before inserting your card.
- If your benefits have already been compromised, call your local department of social services to freeze the use of your card. This will prevent further unauthorized transactions on your card.
- If your card has been stolen or lost, you must call the Maryland EBT Customer Call Center at 1-800-997-2222 to order a replacement card. When activating the replacement card, be sure to create a unique PIN code (avoid reusing the old PIN code). The Maryland EBT Customer Call Center at 1-800-997-2222 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Customers who need assistance can use this link which provides a tracking number.