Community Action Partnership of Orange County offers resources to victims of EBT benefits theft

A local store displays a sticker stating it accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards.
(Sarah Mosqueda)
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Low-income families in Orange County often struggle to make ends meet, and a recent rash of thefts of electronic benefit transfer funds is making that struggle even harder.

“Many of us have heard of these skimmers using card readers, initially to go after ATM cards,” said Gregory C. Scott, president and chief executive officer of Community Action Partnership of Orange County. “That has evolved to now going after those individuals that have EBT cards, or funds from the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program.”

Founded in 1965, Community Action Partnership of Orange County is dedicated to addressing the root of poverty by advocating for low-income individuals and families through systemic reforms, social justice and racial equity. CAP OC also addresses immediate needs with a diaper bank, the OC Food Bank, the Southeast Community Center in Santa Ana, which serves hot meals and offers other resources including utility assistance and an emergency crisis intervention program.


“CAP OC, we see ourselves as a very trusted resource for Orange County,” said Scott, in an interview with TimesOC, “especially for folks who are facing obstacles like food insecurity, unemployment and economic turmoil.”

Those obstacles also include falling victim to “skimmers.”

Thieves will place a device on a retailer’s card-swiping machine to copy or “skim” the EBT card information.

“Once they swipe the card, the skimmer will retain both the card number and the pin,” Scott said.

Thieves use that information to create “cloned” cards — debit cards, gift cards or other devices with magnetic strips that have been encoded with information from legitimate EBT cards.

“They have direct access into people’s accounts,” Scott said.

Card skimming can happen to anyone who uses a credit, debit or EBT card. Unfortunately, most EBT cards don’t have the chip or tap technology included with most credit cards, making them more vulnerable to skimmers.

An alert of the scam on the U.S. Department of Agriculture site urges EBT and SNAP participants to keep their PIN secret and regularly monitor EBT accounts for any unauthorized charges. If unauthorized purchases are found, the PIN should be changed immediately to prevent thieves from making any new purchases.

“This is becoming a major problem not just in our community in Orange County but across the country,” Scott added. He recommends paying the cashier directly and avoiding swiping at all, since the problem is spreading.

In Los Angeles County alone, more than $19.6 million in EBT benefits were stolen in 2022.

“It is already hard for families that are struggling financially and dealing with poverty, then when you add a theft of this magnitude it creates even more of a problem,” said Scott.

If a family’s money is stolen, the missing funds need to be reported within 10 days and for cash aid theft, within 90 days. Victims then must wait for funds to be reprocessed, a waiting period that can be detrimental to a low-income family.

“Oftentimes families with EBT cards are also able to use those cards for rent, for utilities, for groceries, for school supplies and other resources that families need to stay afloat,” said Scott. “If they are unhoused, they may use these funds to pay for hotels. When they are unable to pay, they find themselves being kicked out.”

The good news, Scott said, is that in the state of California, families can be reimbursed.

“It can be somewhat of a wait, and families that are in dire need may not have that time,” Scott said.

For those families, Scott said Community Action Partnership of Orange County is here to help.

Food, diapers and hot meals and utility assistance can all be accessed through CAP OC.

“Our role is to help families address immediate needs when they are in a crisis,” said Scott. “We try to wrap services around families who may be in need, certainly if they are dealing with the theft of their EBT benefits.”

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