California state officials are warning the public to be wary of a rampant increase in Electronic Benefits Transfer scams ravaging people's bank accounts.
A growing number of cyber criminals have taken to targeting the EBT system, intended to serve some of California's poorest families. Since 2021, the frequency of benefits reported stolen has increased by nearly 4,000%.
For some people like Leticia Monroe, EBT is the only way they can survive.
"It's the only way I can take care of my bills, my rent, medical, medicine any other things I need to take care of me and my son," said Monroe, who as a disabled single mother, relies solely on public assistance, which she receives on an EBT card.
She was targeted by scammers last month, when she had nearly $700 stolen from her card the day funds were deposited, leaving her with just $6.51 for all of her bills.
Monroe is among the thousands of Californians who have been taken advantage of in the last year. According to the California Department of Social Services, the state paid around $92,000 in fraud claims by July last year. By the same time in 2022, they paid out nearly $3.8 million to victims of EBT fraud.
In all, California lost almost $24 million as a result of scams in just a 12 month time period.
In September,by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office for their participation in a fraud scheme. Officials seized more than 300 cloned EBT cards that were loaded with around $400,000 in funds. They used skimming devices to steal the majority of that money from EBT users.
Experts warn those utilizing EBT to remain extra vigilant and keep an eye on every transaction, because scammers only seem to be taking out small amounts of money at a time to remain inconspicuous.
"Think of a typical EBT transaction, you're looking at dollars, tens of dollars, so to make this profitable they need to do this frequently and to many people at once," said Zulfikar Ramzan, Aura Chief Scientist.
California plans to pay back all fraud claims, but if a second claim is submitted within 3 years they may not reimburse the lost funds.
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