Help! My Social Security funds have been depleted by fraudulent charges on my Direct Express card

ABC News Fixer helps identity theft victim quash charges

February 18, 2014 ?? – Dear ABC News Repairer: My complaint concerns Direct Express, the card the government uses to issue my Social Security disability checks. On December 31st, a deposit of $ 648 was made to me and placed on my representative beneficiary’s card. My beneficiary and I tried to access the funds at 10 a.m. the next morning, and only $ 28 was left on the card.

We called Direct Express and they said the money was still there, but transactions were pending at AT&T ($ 400), GameStop ($ 200), and iTunes for the rest. I am 64 years old and I do not use these shops.

We told them that we do not allow transactions and that it is identity theft. Direct Express told us that they should go through the transactions and that we have to dispute them within five days. Every time we call to dispute it, we are given the ride. They say they’re going to transfer us to the second level of service, then the phone turns off. During this time, I cannot pay my rent or my bills.

– James Searcy, Chicago, Illinois.

Do you have a drinking problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your issue online. The letters are edited for length and clarity.

Dear James: Well that was a really good way to start the New Year. You told ABC News Fixer that you and your beneficiary watch out for the debit card and don’t share the PIN with others, so it came as a surprise when those expensive purchases of phones, video games, and music went downhill. reaches your account right after deposit. .- Worse, you said, was the frustrating experience of not being able to undo the fraud while it was still going on.

We contacted Comerica, the bank that administers the Direct Express program for the US Treasury. Wayne Mielke, vice president of corporate communications at Comerica, promised they would look into the matter immediately.

And they were able to solve this problem: First, they canceled the compromised card, and you and your beneficiary faxed them a formal dispute. The whole thing took a few weeks, but they eventually returned the missing money minus some fees for a replacement card and expedited delivery resulting in a refund of $ 614. You told us that you are now back on track with your invoices.

As to what happened, Mielke said privacy rules prevent him from disclosing those details. You said that you and your beneficiary never had an explanation either. Mielke confirmed to ABC News Fix that the account is subject to Regulation E, which offers protection to consumers whose accounts are compromised. Under this federal rule, a debit cardholder who reports fraud within two days cannot be held liable for more than $ 50 in losses. If they report the fraud within 60 days, they can be held liable for up to $ 500 – although Direct Express cardholders get 90 days, thanks to an extension negotiated by the Treasury Department. After that, consumers can suffer unlimited losses.

Direct Express users benefit from certain additional protections through MasterCard, depending on how the fraud was committed.

These cards are meant to make things easier for recipients of Social Security, SSI disability benefits, and some other federal payments – and easier and cheaper for the government, which doesn’t have to send out all those paper checks. . Recipients who don’t have a bank or credit union account can get one of these prepaid debit cards with their federal benefits appearing automatically each month. Cards can be used at ATMs and merchants that accept Debit MasterCard, to pay bills online, or to purchase US Money Orders. There is no credit check or minimum balance requirement.

If they plan carefully, Direct Express users can avoid cash withdrawal fees. But as your problem illustrates, it’s important to check your balance daily and know your fraud rights. If anything happens, report it immediately. Then get a police report and keep careful notes for the fraud investigation.

– The ABC News Fixer

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