Californians Lose $181 Million to Unauthorized Withdrawals

( – Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) is a system by which low-income families access the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). The card works similarly to a debit card, allowing participants to buy food and some other eligible necessities. Recently, scammers in California have been stealing EBT information and using it for themselves.

On April 4, the US Secret Service announced it was working with other law enforcement agencies to conduct an investigation, Operation April Fools, in San Diego and Oakland. The operation was launched to bring down a network of criminals who drained $181 million from Californian’s EBT accounts. The coordinated efforts to catch the thieves responsible spanned several days, ending in 10 arrests — 7 were charged in the Southern District of California and 3 in the Northern District.

However, the investigation isn’t over, as Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Peck, US Secret Service Office of Investigations said authorities will not stop until all those responsible are arrested. He vowed to bring down the network in full to protect the “most vulnerable communities” in the US.

Criminals pulled off the EBT scam by placing electronic devices on point-of-sale terminals, ATMs, and gas pumps in various locations. When benefits recipients used their cards, the devices captured the cards’ information, which they were able to place on another card and use. US Attorney Tara McGrath said the skimming “fraud literally takes food out of the mouths of children.” A little over 5.1 people in California in 2023 relied on EBT benefits to survive.

Secret Service urged those with EBT or debit cards to take precautions to help prevent this type of crime. The organization said to inspect any card reader before using it for any loose parts or damage, cover your hand when entering the PIN code, be especially vigilant in tourist areas, use chip technology where available, and check the bank to ensure it recorded the transaction.

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