Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced on Thursday the arrest of 15 people who allegedly used information from “skimmed” electronic benefit transfer cards to make unauthorized withdrawals of funds that had been paid to people in need. .

More than 300 law enforcement officers began monitoring about 20 ATMs in the Los Angeles area on Wednesday and identified people who were making multiple cash withdrawals with cards encrypted with information that had been stolen from them. cards used by the California Department of Social Services to provide CalFresh. and CalWORKs benefits for qualified recipients, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“By stealing public benefits using counterfeit EBT cards, the defendant in these cases robbed the accounts of some of the poorest people in our community, people who need these benefits to survive,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada in a statement.

“These actions are part of a larger assault on the EBT system, which has caused losses in the tens of millions of dollars. Together with our law enforcement partners who have devoted untold resources to the combating this issue, my office will continue to do everything in its power to prevent criminals from victimizing members of our community, especially the most vulnerable.”

Authorities made the arrests after determining that suspects at ATMs were barred from accessing funds that had been deposited in recipients’ accounts. So far, prosecutors have filed five criminal complaints charging the defendants with using unauthorized access devices (the cards used to make cash withdrawals) or possessing 15 or more unauthorized access devices. , and he is expected to file other cases later on Thursday. and Friday

The arrested defendants, many of whom are Romanian citizens, are expected to begin making their first appearances Thursday afternoon in federal court in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department launched the investigation into the fraudulent withdrawal of benefits in August 2022, and soon after, the US Secret Service joined “Operation Urban Justice” as a joint partner.

Documents filed in federal court describe how state officials identified more than $38.9 million in stolen funds from victims’ EBT cards.

This fraud focused on CalWORKs and CalFresh, formerly known as “food stamps”, both intended to help low-income recipients buy food and cover their basic needs.

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 stripes that have been encoded with information from cards. Legit EBTs. Court documents allege that at least some of those involved in the fraudulent withdrawals obtained stolen EBT card information from skimming devices installed in ATMs, the Justice Department said.

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