SACRAMENTO, Calif. — People up and down California are writing in saying that their inflation relief debit cards have been drained of money.
The state has issued over 8 million debit cards so far, and is still sending out cards through January 14 to eligible Californians.
It was the beginning of 2022 when Governor Newsom first announced he wanted to do a tax refund.
After much negotiating with state lawmakers, this was the agreement that they came to: people would be getting either direct deposits or debit cards depending on how they filed their taxes.
Roxane Martinez and her husband got $700 in the form of a debit card. The first thing the Crow’s Landing couple did was pay for their updated car registration with the DMV
“Then I just put it down for a few days," Martinez said, "And I went to use it again, it got denied at two different places.”
The remaining $500 was gone.
“You're supposed to only be able to use a pin to use it, and they used mine without a pin," she said. "They used it without it even being out of my possession.”
Maryan Gonnerman received $350 from the state on her debit card. She used it to buy a quick lunch at work.
“I logged in, and I saw that it had $5 left on it," Gonnerman said. "I was like hmmmm.”
Her dad, who lives in Point Loma, used to be the chief financial officer for a local bank.
“I suspect somebody basically invaded the card issuer," John Gonnerman said, "because to use a debit card versus credit, you need to have a pin number, and so somehow, they've got the pin number registry.”
Maryan likened California to a sad relative.
“They're like a sad relative that like keeps getting in trouble, and you're like, 'why did you do this to yourself? You knew that person wasn't trustworthy, but you still gave them a contract to do this'," Maryan said.
Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson represents Fresno. He said his constituents have been contacting his office with similar issues.
“Unfortunately, when we try to reach the Franchise Tax Board, and then when we try to reach the vendor, the Money Network, we are not even getting responses," Patterson said. "if I can't reach them, my goodness, our constituents are going to have a hard time reaching them.”
As Vice Chair of the Oversight Committee, Patterson is comparing this to how the state handled the EDD unemployment fraud.
“Here we go again," Patterson said. "It is almost like their business plan includes the acceptance of a certain amount of fraud. I can't understand why we repeat the same kind of failure to our constituents.”
Republican Assemblymember Laurie Davies said her office was contacted about the issue too. She sent a statement saying, in part, that the "administration sent rebates via debit cards to Californians – cards without security chips that now have been pilfered by thieves. It’s appalling, and it adds insult to injury to Californians dealing with record high costs of living as they waited months for relief only to receive empty debit cards in the mail right before the holidays."
The Franchise Tax Board said they anticipate the possibility of malfunctions, fraud, or other wrongdoing, and they continue to keep a close eye on the situation. The Board says this is not a big issue right now.
"Under the terms of the contract, the program is expected to run with less than a 1% fraud rate considering the defense strategies put in place," a spokesperson said. "To date, the program is running far below that metric."
The Board says if this happens to you, you "should report it immediately by calling Money Network at 800-240-0223. This is imperative because it begins the fraud investigation and resolution process."
The Board sent a list of key points to share:
- Debit cards have no value until they are activated with key personal information.
- Recipients need to activate their cards to withdraw or transfer funds.
- When calling the MCTR customer service line it’s important to listen to all options before choosing the correct one. Callers might not be transferred immediately. Wait times can vary based on call volumes, and callers should call back later if they’re disconnected.
- Money Network and FTB have multiple fraud prevention and detection tools, which we do not detail because it can empower bad actors.
- Lost debit cards can take up to 10 business days to reissue.
- Fraudsters have developed techniques for debit cards with and without a security chip.
Here are some tips for avoiding debit card fraud:
- Secure your MCTR payment by transferring or withdrawing your funds as soon as possible.
- If you believe your MCTR debit card has been lost or stolen, report promptly by calling 800-240-0223.
- Neither Money Network nor New York Community Bank, a Money Network subcontractor issuing the debit cards, will ever ask you for your password, PIN or full Social Security Number.
- Keep your card stored in a safe and secure place.
- Do not share your PIN.
- Do not share card details (such as card number or expiration date) unless making a purchase.
- Don’t fall for text messages, emails, or calls asking you to “activate” or “reactivate” your prepaid debit card. Do not click on any suspicious links.
- Visit FTB’s Scams page and the Office of the State Attorney General for more tips on how to avoid scams.
WATCH RELATED: State still in the process of sending out billions of inflation relief payments (Dec. 2022).