BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Recently those who receive cash aid and food benefits have been victims of electronic theft. The Kern County Department of Human Services says they have seen an increase in reports where the money is stolen from EBT accounts.
A day before having to pay rent, Maya Subia, the mother 23ABC spoke with, woke up to $520 fraudulently withdrawn from her EBT benefits account. A screenshot shows $520 withdrawn at a Bank of America. But says she doesn’t bank with them, and she was sleeping while it happened.
That was the money she was going to use to pay her landlord but is now trying to pick up more shifts at work to make ends meet before it is too late.
"Because of this, I did get a three-day notice. Right now, I am in the midst of working with my landlord. Thank God I'm blessed that I do have an understanding landlord but then again that goes back to what about the woman that don't," asked Subia.
Subia says she knows about 50 women who have all posted on their Facebook group about this situation, each describing how hard it has been to one day be left high and dry when it comes to their EBT benefits.
"My heart just broke for all the other women that are literally sitting there and they're like 'What do I do? I have no other source of income? I have children. I need to feed them. I have children that I need to provide for.'”
Subia adds not only are they taking EBT funds but also SNAP which is only used to buy food.
"So not only are we sitting there with you know, missing our bill money, our rent money, clothing for our children, gas for our cars, or you know whatever it is, you also are taking food and for the most of us, food out of our children's mouth. So that just sends people into a panic."
She says when it happened to her, she tried to file a report with the Kern County Sheriff's Office with no luck. KCSO told her they needed more information like the identification of the thief.
23ABC reached out and KCSO said typically online and over-the-phone scams don’t yield much evidence but a report should be taken regardless. And given it was all done electronically, Subia has no idea who it could be.
According to the Kern County Department of Human Services which oversees these funds, many of these thefts can happen through skimming or tricking people into giving their account information up.
"It's basically the skimming of benefits which is done by like overlaying you know a credit card swiping machine to copy the EBT card information and so that's kind of a skimmer is like where you capture that information by like swiping or inserting your card," explained Martha Esparza, assistant program director with the executive bureau at Kern County Department of Human Services.
Esparza says essentially anywhere that you put your card, information can be at risk.
Another scam is when people pretend to be the department to get the information, but Esparza adds they would never ask for any pin or personal information.
So what to do if this happens to you?
First thing is to call the Kern County Department of Human Services at (877) 410-8812 or (661) 631-6000 or call the EBT customer service call center at (877) 328-9677.
Now, they don’t have a way to know exactly how this is happening but the county says the best way to avoid having your information stolen online is just check the balance through the state website instead of a third-party application.
Some of the victims including, Subia use an app called Providers to check their balance.
23ABC did reach out to the makers of the app called to which they responded:
At Propel, we build the Providers app, which is used by over 5 million SNAP households across all 50 states to manage their EBT benefits, conduct their banking, and save money. For SNAP recipients, the Providers app connects to state EBT systems in order to display an up-to-date balance and transaction history.
Our app does not have access to EBT funds. We do not save user-entered EBT payment information like card number or PIN to our systems, and we play no role in the actual EBT transaction. People are rightfully concerned when their EBT benefits go missing, but it isn't possible for the Providers app to facilitate fraud - even if an EBT cardholder's phone with our app on it was stolen, there wouldn't be a way to actually spend EBT benefits through it. In fact, because Providers makes it much easier for an EBT cardholder to see their balance and transaction history, our users can identify and report fraudulent transactions much more rapidly.
Meanwhile, Maya Subia says she just wants to let others know about what is happening and wished there was more awareness and guidance before so many became victims.
"I just want to say to whomever is doing this, shame on you because you are taking from families and that is not okay," said Subia
The state has also seen a spike in these reports and began reissuing EBT cards last month with CVV technology which makes it harder to take information from. Those cards are being given to those who have had cases. The county department adding to try all the numbers and get that claim in within 10 days of the fraud happening.