Evelyn Carpio, a single mother who receives government assistance to supplement wages from her job, was surprised when her benefits card was denied at a grocery store due to insufficient funds. Carpio soon learned that her monthly benefits had been withdrawn in their entirety earlier that day, likely through a pernicious practice called “skimming,” whereby devices inserted into ATMs capture the information stored on a card’s magnetic stripe. But, although she immediately reported the theft and filed a police report, the California Department of Social Services, which oversees the benefits program, refused to help her.

“I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it,” Carpio said. “I was so scared. I had to borrow money because I didn’t have any money to pay the rent.”

Carpio was not alone. Government aid benefits are disbursed through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) using debit-like cards to recipients throughout the country. Just like traditional bank accounts, EBT benefits have become increasingly vulnerable to theft. But the Department of Social Services did not recognize electronic theft, addressing only those instances when an EBT card is physically taken.

With the help of attorneys from Neighborhood Legal Services, Carpio was finally reimbursed. Carpio and her attorneys then sued the state, and forced it to change its policies for the countless families who depend on EBT cards and had nowhere to turn when their funds are stolen.

Read coverage of the lawsuit here: