Native mother has over $1000 stolen from baby help cost card – WPXI
‘This is heartless and cruel’: Local mom has stolen over $1000 from child support payment card
PENNSYLVANIA — Marcia Ray is a single mom of two girls who says she depends on her child support money to help care for them. She was upset and frustrated last year after discovering more than $1000 stolen from her payments.
“This is a huge source of money to support my kids, to pay for their food. Ten dollars is a lot of money to me,” Ray said.
The state of Pennsylvania issues a debit card for parents, like Ray, to get their child support payments. It’s called an EPPICard and essentially works like a pre-paid credit card with money loaded onto it. Some 180,000 people in Pennsylvania use the EPPICard to get their child support.
In August 2021, Ray says she noticed something was wrong with her payments and checked her EPPICard account balance.
She was scrolling through her statement and realized much to her alarm that someone had been making unauthorized charges and stealing her child support money. It happened 16 times.
At first, she didn’t notice, because the charges were small—as little as 3 cents, $4 and $5—but then, larger amounts, like $158, $173 and $159.
When she realized her account was depleting faster than it should and checked her statement,
she discovered the charges had been happening for three months since June. They were made in the name of a foreign company Ray says she never heard of in Trinidad and Tobago.
She says she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Shock, mad, frantic. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Hard to get help
Ray says she reported the fraud but had a hard time getting through to EPPICard customer service.
“I couldn’t get hold of anybody. Calls would drop, I would wait on hold,” she said.
Finally, she says they told her to contact the fraud department, but she didn’t end up getting the response she expected.
“I got a letter in the mail. We closed your case. We can’t prove it was fraudulent charges,” Ray told 11 Investigates.
Frustrated by the lack of help and at a loss about what to do, Ray says she contacted her friend and attorney John Biedrzycki for help.
“This is heartless and cruel,” Biedrzycki said. “It’s hurting the weakest people in society. These are single moms. $50 matters to them.”
Biedrzycki says he contacted EPPICard to try and get a resolution, but had no luck getting Ray’s money reimbursed.
Limiting fraud prevention
Even worse, Biedrzycki says when they tried to make sure that type of fraud wouldn’t happen again by asking EPPICard to turn off international and online charges, they discovered that was not an option.
“I asked if they could do that, and they said there’s no way they can turn off charges for international purchases,” Ray said.
With most credit cards, that is an option. You can put restrictions on where and when your card can be used—like turning off international and online transactions.
Biedrzycki says not having that ability makes it hard for all card users to protect themselves.
“They have fewer rights than any other debit card holder in this country,” he said. “It’s beyond unfair. It’s discriminatory.”
Biedrzycki says making it possible to turn off international transactions if you don’t use them would be a major help in trying to prevent fraud.
“I think it’d make a huge difference, because what happened to Ms. Ray wouldn’t happen at all.”
Why don’t cardholders have more control?
11 Investigates wanted to know why EPPICard doesn’t provide that ability to the 180,000 users in Pennsylvania.
First, we reached out to Conduent State and Local Solutions, which runs EPPICard. The company has a $29.8 million, six-year contract with Pennsylvania through September 2023 to distribute child support here.
A spokesperson wouldn’t say why cardholders can’t turn off international transactions and directed us to the state for more information.
We contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which is responsible for overseeing child support payments in the state. DHS would not do an interview with 11 Investigates but sent a statement saying: “DHS takes fraud prevention seriously, and we communicate this to any entity that administers our programs.”
When it came to the question about not being able to turn off international transactions, the state confirmed that is true, writing to 11 Investigates in an email: “There is no ability to disable international transactions.” But a spokesperson did not answer why that is the case.
EPPICard is used by many state governments to distribute money to its citizens. Pennsylvania is among two dozen states using the card for everything from child support to unemployment insurance to welfare payments.
Complaints about EPPICard
A check online showed Ray was far from alone in her complaints about EPPICard.
A Facebook page support group for EPPICard users shows 1.3 stars and 50 reviews, with several people complaining about customer service and fraudulent charges.
On ConsumerAffairs.com, a customer review website, the EPPICard page shows 2.2 out of 5 stars with 1033 reviews, and again several complaints about unauthorized charges.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office says it received a total of 22 complaints about EPPICard over the past three years.
Ray says she still has not been reimbursed for the $1003 she lost to fraud on her EPPICard.
With so many cardholders in Pennsylvania, Attorney Biedrzycki says he is considering filing a class action suit on behalf of Ray and the other EPPICard users in the state.
“There’s no reason why they should not be able to turn off international transactions and internet transactions or anything like that,” said Biedryzcki.
Ray says she now watches her EPPICard statement constantly, trying to make sure she doesn’t get stuck with more fraudulent charges.
“It’s frustrating. It makes me angry,” she said.
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