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Feds Arrest 15 People in L.A. For EBT Card Skimming Schemes

On Thursday, federal prosecutors announced the arrest of 15 people in L.A. who are suspected of using information electronic benefit transfer cards that had been illegally "skimmed." The accused would allegedly make unauthorized withdrawals of funds that had been disbursed to people in need.

More than 300 law enforcement officers began monitoring about 20 ATM locations across the Los Angeles area early Wednesday morning, identifying individuals who were repeatedly taking cash out of the machines. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the suspects were using "cloned" cards encoded with information that had been stolen from off of existing cards used by the California Department of Social Services to endow CalFresh and CalWORKs benefits to qualified recipients.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the money is withdrawn using debit and gift cards, and other magnetic strip-bearing devices. Only the fake cards are encoded with information from people's real EBT cards. The encoded information is most likely stolen using skimming devices placed inside of ATM machines, that read and record the information, transferring it onto the fake card.

The investigation revealed that the fraudulent withdrawal of these benefits is done with ``cloned'' cards, which are debit cards, gift cards or other devices with magnetic strips that have been encoded with information from legitimate EBT cards. Court documents allege that at least some of those involved in the fraudulent withdrawals obtained stolen EBT card information from skimming devices installed on ATM machines, the DOJ said.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said, "By stealing public benefits using counterfeit EBT cards, the defendant in these cases plundered the accounts of some of our community's poorest residents -- people who need these benefits to survive."

"These actions are part of a larger assault on the EBT system," he continued. "One which has caused tens of millions of dollars in losses."

Arrests were made after authorities ascertained that the individuals using the ATMs, many of who are Romanian nationals, were not entitled to funds in the accounts. Five criminal complaints have been filed, charging the defendants with possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices (the cards themselves) and using them. Additional charges are expected to be filed.

The investigation into the fraudulent withdrawal of benefits, dubbed Operation Urban Justice, was launched by the LAPD in August 2022. The U.S. Secret Service joined shortly after in a joint partnership.

Over $38.9 million in stolen EBT card funds were identified, targeting both CalFRESH and CalWORKS. EBT funds were once commonly known as "food stamps," and are meant to provide food and necessities for low=income beneficiaries.

Reporting by City News Service

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