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EBT Cardholders Beware: California Faces Unprecedented Uptick in Thefts

Thieves have taken millions from CalFresh and CalWORKs cards, leaving families waiting for fund replacements and placing more burden on taxpayers.

The California Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) was designed to support low-income families. But now, theft from these cards is causing problems.

“It was a feeling of defeat. Honestly, as a man, as a father of children, it was a defeat,” said Chad Guthrie, having lost $3,200 to fraud.

Living in Fresno, Guthrie's family was hit when $1,600 was stolen in May.

“First month that happened to us, we had a doctor's appointment in Sunnyvale for our youngest son who has Williams syndrome,” Guthrie shared. “Money was deposited I believe 6:15 a.m., and at 6:17 a.m. There was one withdrawal that time for the total amount of the $1,600.”

Dependent on these funds, another theft of $1,600 in August pushed his family further into financial stress.

“(It) means our current $800 electric bill, which is what we are paying about a month right now, will automatically go up to about a $2,000,” Guthrie explained.

Though reimbursed by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the wait was about 30 days, causing additional late fees and stress.

“That is my biggest fear, if we can't stay on that program and can't make it through this, the chance of losing our electricity is extremely high,” Guthrie voiced concern. “We also lose our Section 8 housing, which means we also lose our house."

The state has seen thefts surpassing $86 million over 21 months from these two programs.

“$86,675,839, that is an awful lot of money that has been mismanaged and we need to fix it and we need to stop it,” stated Asm. Tom Lackey, (R) Palmdale.

Lackey finds parallels between this and a recent pandemic-related EDD fraud where around $20 billion in unemployment funds were stolen.

“I was taught a phrase long ago that if it's predictable, it should be preventable,” said Lackey. “I don't know how many times we have to repeat this before we actually take action because people are losing confidence in government. These are the circumstances that validate that lack of confidence, and we need to restore the confidence in government and the only way to do that is to fix these problems and make sure they don't resurface.”

Lackey intends to address this issue head-on.

For their safety, the Guthries now change their card's code just before the deposit.

“There is no more remembering the code, we are writing it down,” Guthrie mentioned.

An idea to solve this is to place chips in EBT cards to stop easy scams — meaning chips are planned but without a set rollout date.

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