Department Investigators Warn Residents About Stolen Public Benefits
November 1, 2022
Every month thieves steal more than $5 million in benefits statewide
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif.— Investigators from the county’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) are warning recipients of cash and food assistance about an uptick in crimes involving Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, particularly at the beginning of the month.
“EBT theft is a growing issue not just here in Riverside County but around the country,” said Chief Shawn Ferris of the Special Investigations Unit at DPSS. “In California alone, thieves steal five million dollars in EBT benefits every month, most commonly through a method called skimming.”
DPSS investigators estimate between 50 and 100 thefts occur each month in Riverside County. “People who participate in the CalWORKs and CalFresh programs are noticing that their accounts are being emptied and this affects their ability to buy food and meet their most basic needs,” Chief Ferris said. “So far, most of the thefts have occurred in Hemet, Moreno Valley, Riverside and Corona. Recently there have been some cases in Desert Hot Springs as well.”
According to the FBI, skimming occurs when devices illegally installed on ATMs, point-of-sale terminals, or fuel pumps capture data or record cardholders’ personal identification numbers (PINs). Thieves use the data to create fake debit or credit cards and steal from victims’ accounts.
In recent months, the Special Investigations Unit at DPSS has taken several steps to protect DPSS customers, including finding and removing more than 40 illegally installed cameras on ATMS countywide and working with other agencies to investigate these crimes. Customers with questions or concerns about their EBT card can contact the State’s EBT call center at (877) 328-9677. Many of the customers affected by these ATM crimes participated in the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, which provides cash aid and services to eligible needy California families. In Riverside County, there are an estimated 16,000 CalWORKs recipients every month.
DPSS investigators want the public to be aware of ways to prevent EBT theft. Card users should visually inspect an ATM machine to see if it’s been altered in any way. For example, customers should look for pinholes about size of the tip of a pencil, which indicate a camera has been installed. Investigators also recommend customers cover the PIN pad as they enter their PIN so a camera doesn’t record the number. Watch this video for ways to take action and prevent EBT theft.
To report EBT theft in Riverside County, residents can call DPSS’ fraud hotline at 1-800-344-8477 or fill out an electronic form by clicking here.
Caption: Mark Drake, a technician with the Riverside County Department of Social Services Special Investigations team, shows off a device designed to be illegally installed in an ATM.