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New Olympic Sport: Surviving Breach of EPPICard Data

All eyes to the slopes for the Olympics, and to vulnerable personal banking info, too, because Russian fraudsters have been training for this event, already hacking unprotected data. Meanwhile, the other data theft contest continues to spin back home—the Target (et al) “breach” garnering paltry media coverage for what these corporations shoulda, coulda, woulda done.

The unreported story is, to no surprise, those breached accounts belonging to the desperately poor. Melissa, a frugal, responsible mom I met 10 years ago on my initial HEAR US journey, told me of the latest bump in her survivalist saga, “All the money we had was on that card. They took it all.”

“The card” she referred to is a debit card, aka EPPICard, where her child support payments were plunked by the State of Florida. “They” who took it all are the creeps that stole data from Target. It’s far worse for those in Melissa’s income strata—those with no safety net, living paycheck to paycheck—or in Melissa’s case, $300 child support payment to $300 biweekly child support payment.

Senate hearings and CEO apologies about the breach clutter the news. ABC News reports, “The finger-pointing is coming from two industries with considerable lobbying might. Their trade groups have been bombarding lawmakers with letters arguing why the other industry must do more — and spend more — to protect consumers.” Too little, too late for folks like Melissa.

And the plain-speak EPPICard assurances,

“The State of Florida [and most states] has implemented a convenient ‘electronic’ payment option for receiving your child support payments using a prepaid Debit MasterCard® card - A better way to receive your child support payments. Simply spend your money by presenting your debit card; it is safe, convenient and secure. You have immediate access to your funds because your child support payments are electronically loaded to your debit MasterCard® card account,”

are pure BS.

Not far from returning to homelessness, Melissa’s fragile financial circumstances give her no room for financial tomfoolery. Bureaucratic stupidity already whacked her household (a 9-year-old special-needs son, an 18-year-old daughter/single mom with a 3-year-old daughter) by the food stamp (SNAP) monster, going from $400 to $200. She’s received no assurances about getting her FDIC-insured money back.

The debit card breach means the money to pay electricity and water/sewer bills for their FEMA-issue (read bedraggled) trailer, one she fought for in the post Hurricane Ivan days, is gone. But, according to Melissa, it’s worse than utility shut-offs. “Not only did they take our money, they took our sense of security,” she lamented. And it threatens to return her and her family to homelessness.

It’s worth a look at a sidebar story. The EPPICard is how states transfer child support and unemployment payments to millions of folks. These “convenient” little plastic cards are designed to get money due into the hands of money-challenged households. I lack the space to report on the fraud, fees raked in, and deception that EPPICard users experience (Googling these topics overwhelmed me, but here’s a website that will get you started digging through the slime.)

Let me just mention 3 red flags with EPPICards:

And these issues are not new. Insipid media coverage has pointed to EPPICard’s problems since plastic became the way of the land, offering the suggestion that cardholders should just switch to banks, perhaps not realizing how impossible/impractical this is for many people.

Back to Melissa and the millions like her who got robbed in this breach…She rightfully points out that media attention is diverted from consumers’ pain to the corporate screw-ups who feign sorrow. It’s impossible to believe that the potential of fraud and other malfeasance was given adequate attention as these cards were being foisted on the economically vulnerable individuals and families. I’d suspect profit was the bigger concern. And I invite an investigative journalist to have at it.

Landlords don’t wait for past due rent. They evict. Utilities get shut off. Cars get repossessed. Jobs are lost when employees lack money for bus tickets or gas. Medicine is inaccessible. Babysitters can’t be paid. Tuition goes uncollected. Food costs money. Fending off homelessness is far more challenging, and gruesome, than skiing down a snowless slope, but too painful to watch.