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Thousands Still Unable To Access EDD Benefits From Bank Of America Due To Ongoing Fraud Suspicions

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- Mandy Styles was in tears as she recounted her experience as a victim of EDD fraud.

"I am alone, so I have no family. I have no one to back me up," she said.

Styles, who lives in West Los Angeles, had her EDD Bank of America debit card drained last month.

"Like, all the money was gone," she said. "It's $6,800. It doesn't sound like a lot to some people but to me it was everything."

Though Styles said the debit card never left her possession, her account was used to spend thousands on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

"I called EDD on the card and they put me on hold for five hours and then hung up on me," she said.

Styles filed a police report, and she said Bank of America told her it was EDD's problem to solve.

CBS San Francisco first reported about the fraudsters draining the accounts of unemployed Californians in October. At that time, the EDD office said 350,000 debit card accounts had been frozen due to suspected fraud.

"It's extremely unfortunate that Californians have suffered at the hands of scammers across the country," the EDD office said in a statement to CBS2/KCAL9 on Thursday. "The EDD is dedicated to doing everything possible to ensure legitimate claimants get the benefits they are eligible to receive while working with our federal, state and local partners, including Bank of America, to shut down fraudulent claims and bring offenders to justice."

Gabriel Rodriguez, who lives in Corona, said he is now homeless after his account was drained of $1,600.

"Any family member that would take me in, that's where I was at," he said.

According to a statement he wrote online, EDD took the money out of his account. Then, Bank of America froze it so he couldn't access any of his incoming unemployment funds.

"And then I got a letter in the mail from Bank of America telling me my claim was closed and that was the final decision and they wouldn't refund me that money," Rodriguez said.

This week, Congresswoman Maxine Waters called out Bank of America for what she called "unacceptable" behavior, for allowing EDD debit cards to be "frozen, closed, or drained without notice."

"And then, people can't get any answers," she said. "They call EDD and they say 'it's not on us,' call Bank of America, and then Bank of America says 'call EDD.'"

Waters said Bank of America needs to refund the money to potential fraud victims immediately.

"It is not the bank that will lose any money," she said. "The bank is getting paid for doing the work for us."

In a statement to KCAL9/CBS2, Bank of American said: "The program is unfortunately riddled with billions of dollars in fraud. Criminals have found ways to steal money from the state and the debit cards of legitimate unemployment recipients. We are working closely with the state to get legitimate claimants their funds but the criminal fraud makes it very challenging.

We have helped stop billions of dollars in theft by these criminals and protected taxpayer dollars, in partnership with state and law enforcement officials. The accounts in question were frozen at the state's request due to the significant amount of fraud in the application process. We look forward to briefing Chairwoman Waters on the extent of unemployment fraud, including a very high percentage of the accounts she highlighted that represent fraudulent activity."

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