County Investigators Warning of Local Uptick in Stolen Public Benefits

Carmela Karcher

A warning to those who depend on the state welfare system.

County investigators say there has been a startling increase of thieves draining Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) accounts, leaving people who depend on programs like CalFresh and CalWORKs without any means to buy food or meet their basic needs.

“This is an ongoing and growing crime problem here in our county,” Department of Public Social Services Chief of Investigations Shawn Ferris shared. “We want people to help us help them so we can curtail it.”

Authorities say most of the thefts have taken place in Hemet, Moreno Valley, Riverside and Corona.

Most recently, cases are being reported in Desert Hot Springs.

The most prominent way benefits are being stolen is through a method called “skimming.”

“Here in Riverside County, most of the crimes have occurred at ATM machines,” Chief Ferris explained. “People are going up to ATM machines, they insert the card and they don’t know that a skimmer is in there. When the card goes in, it really works like a copy machine, so as the card goes in, it copies the data on the machine.”

While this method isn’t necessarily new, suspects are getting more creative.

“They also need the pin number to go with it so they install these cameras,” he said. “The combination of the two, the pin numbers and the data, is what they use to steal EBT benefits. They’re really targeting the most vulnerable in our community. Those funds are for the most needy and those who are they are targeting as victims.”

So, what should people look out for?

“As you look at some of the devices, one of the biggest things is to do a visual inspection,” Chief Ferris continued. “You’ll see devices on there that may not look like they fit. Maybe it’s just colorization, maybe the metal isn’t a perfect match, and the most important thing is there will be a small, 1/16th inch pinhole about the size of a tip of a pencil that points down at the keypad in some direction. That’s how they’re stealing information.”

Making awareness and prevention even more important

“That’s our goal here is to get that message out so you don’t have that shock of ‘I have missing money,’ especially for those that really rely on that for rent and food and things that are basic essentials in our community,” Chief Ferris said.

Chief Ferris also recommends covering your pin when you enter it.

To report EBT theft, call the Department of Public Social Services at 1-800-344-8477 or fill out this form by clicking here.

If you have been victimized, contact a local Department of Public Social Services’ Office to find out how to get reimbursed if funds have been stolen.

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