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FactFinder 12: Direct Express debit card scam

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June 11, 2013|by Brian Heap | Factfinder 12 Investigator

(WICHITA, Kan.) — UPDATE:

FactFinder 12 Investigators spoke with Nora Arpin, a debit card expert for Comerica Bank.  Arpin said ATM fraud is a growing problem industry-wide for banks and businesses involved in operating debit card programs. 

Arpin explained the $785.99 refunded to Sonya Nicholson's account came from Comerica Bank and not the social security fund.  She said fraud is an accepted risk of businesses that operate debit card programs and they are responsible for refunds. 

She would not say how much Comerica has had to refund as a result of this latest round of scams.  She added it's a constant struggle to keep one step ahead of the fraudsters.

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Some Eyewitness News viewers have been getting mysterious text messages about their social security debit cards.

It's just one of the ways scam artists are looking to separate Kansans from their monthly federal benefit payments.

Direct Express is the debit card the government uses to issue social security payments and other federal benefits.  For moms like Sonya Nicholson it's crucial to paying the bills and supporting her children.

"They took it off in Las Vegas.  Just took my money," Nicholson said after learning her account was hacked or her card was copied.  Monday, just hours after her children's benefits were credited to the debit card, someone removed $785.99 from an ATM at Caesar's Palace, nearly wiping out Nicholson's entire balance.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. 

Nicholson's printed transaction history proves she could not have made the large withdrawal in Las Vegas.  Because three and a half hours later it shows she bought breakfast at a Wichita Cafe, using some of the $20 thieves left on the card.

FactFinder 12 has learned text messages are one way the crooks are trying to fish for information.  But in Nicholson's case it's unclear how they got her account number.

The Investigators called Comerica Bank, which runs the Direct Express card system.  Within hours, Nicholson's account was credited back all the money she lost.

However, a spokesperson for Comerica wouldn't tell us where the replacement money came from.  It likely came from the country's depleting social security fund.

Which begs the question: How widespread is this scam?  And how much extra money is it costing the social security system? 

FactFinder 12 asked Comerica and the U.S. Treasury Department but can't get those answers yet

If you get a text message claiming to be from Direct Express do not respond to it or call the number provided in the text. 
Don't fall for it direct scams
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