FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – Electronic thieves have stolen from nearly 3,000 state benefit cardholders in Fresno County this year.

According to the Fresno County Department of Social Services (DSS), con artists stole benefits from around 120 cards in Fresno County. This year that number dramatically increased by over 2000% with 2,800 cards hit in the county.

“We believed the county card was very secure, that nobody would touch it,” said Jagat Singh. “But I was wrong.”

The month of September was supposed to be filled with birthday candles and cake at the Singh household. Instead, the month was filled with empty wallets and growling stomachs.

“There were two birthdays in the family for the month of September we didn’t have food on the table and a cake to cut for the birthdays,” said Singh. “We almost starved the whole month. They didn’t listen to us.”

Singh gets money each month on his EBT card to put food on the table.

The debit card, which comes from the state government, is a lifeline for many families, especially with the rising inflation. So, when Singh looked at his account and saw $3,000 gone. He was shocked.

“This was my last balance of $3519 within one day. $28, $28, $28, $28, all the transactions from 3-10. They are gone. Within 6 hours everything was gone overnight,” said Singh.

The Singh account was drained in just a few hours and Singh’s wasn’t the only one.

Fresno County Department of Social Services Program Manager Elisa Gallegos said statewide theft of benefits has been a problem in the last year and now those thefts have made their way to Fresno County.

“It is happening nationwide,” said Gallegos. “It is not just a California issue. It is not just a Fresno issue. It is happening all across the nation. Within the last year, we have seen a huge increase in electronic theft. Before it used to be scam events.”

But how are the con artists getting the card information?

“All of these just take a matter of seconds to be installed,” said Fresno Police Detective David Lomeli as he pointed to photos of skimmers and shimmers.

Skimmers are installed on card readers or gas pumps and can be seen from the outside.

Surveillance video taken inside a local gas station showed the quick install. Usually, the con artists work in teams of two. One distracts the clerk, and the other pops the skimmer on.

“Once they are installed, they can create hundreds if not thousands of victims in a short period of time,” said Lomeli.

A shimmer is placed inside ATM machines.

“When a victim inserts their card, it feels forced or when the card is ejected from the machine, the victim will have to apply some force to get the card out of the card slot,” said Lomeli.

Lomeli said to pull on the device before inserting your card to prevent card fraud. If there is a skimmer, it will likely pop off.

When in doubt, if the device seems off, Lomeli said don’t enter in your pin and report it to your card and the police department immediately.

“We do everything we can but we are limited with the resources that we have,” said Lomeli.

Finding the culprit behind the skimmer can take weeks, months, or even years. A luxury that many do not have.

“The county has denied your request,” said Singh as he read the denial letter he received in the mail.

The Singh family reported the theft but the DSS denied the reimbursement request. The letter stated the denial was because the report wasn’t filled in 10 days. Singh is appealing the decision but it could take up to a year.

“It’s too late,” said Singh. “I believe that justice delayed is justice denied.”

The DSS said to keep an eye on your card balance and report any irregularities to the DSS office as soon as possible. Officials also suggest changing your pin each month.

To protect yourself from identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name, ruining your credit. You can freeze your credit for free and can unfreeze it at any time.

If your benefits have been stolen call 877-328-9677 and contact your local DSS.

You just have to freeze it with three different sites.

  1. Equifax                 800-685-1111
  2. Experian              888-397-3742
  3. Transunion         800-888-4213