Bamboozled: An old problem nails a new victim

In September, we reported a case of fraud against Karen Muller, a user of the EPPICard, a state-sanctioned debit card used for BB brandingchild support and alimony benefits. After dozens of phone calls, Muller was unable to get nearly $10,000 of counterfeit charges reversed on her account.

Until Bamboozled got involved.

That’s how we learned about Edna Pilch, 54, who receives child support benefits on an EPPICard.

In April, Pilch discovered more than $3,500 of fake charges on her account. All of the charges were for shops in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island. Pilch lives in Sayreville.

Pilch followed the proper procedures to file a dispute and the charges were reversed — at first.

‘‘But in a couple of months, they were debited again, and that’s when it became extremely frustrating,’’ she said.

About $2,900 of fake charges remained. Pilch was then told, as was our first EPPICard user, that she’d have to contact each merchant directly to have the charges reversed. She searched online for help and found our story, which said fraud victims do not have to call merchants directly.

11309Sounds an awful lot like the first EPPICard experience we reported.

Could ACS, the company that processes transactions for the EPPICard, still be giving customers the wrong information? The company told Bamboozled last time around that EPPICard users have the same federal consumer protections given to traditional debit cards. That means there’s no need for customers to call merchants in a fraud case.

Late on a Friday, Bamboozled alerted ACS of Pilch’s problems, and at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Pilch received a call.

‘‘$2,900 back in my account!’’ a very happy Pilch reported, saying the ACS representative told her ‘‘she is using this to have extra training sessions for her people because they handled it wrong.’’

But what about calling the merchants? We turned back to ACS spokesman Ken Ericson.

‘‘We’ve identified the problem and have taken steps to ensure the proper processes are followed so this type of situation does not happen again,’’ Ericson said.

Let’s hope so.

Pilch’s tale reminded Bamboozled to check if the state of New Jersey plans to negotiate a better deal, with lower fees, for EPPICard’s 72,000 users when the current contract is up in February 2010.

‘‘Yes, it’s definitely under consideration,’’ said Suzanne Esterman, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services Division of Family Development, the agency that contracts for the EPPICard.

Glad to hear it. We hope New Jersey can strike a better deal, as the state of Mississippi is poised to do. Mississippi is renegotiating its next contract with EPPICard, which will expire Oct. 31, 2010.

We’re eager to see New Jersey push for lower fees, but if the state can’t do better, maybe it’s time for EPPICard users to protest with action, like Karen Muller did, and like Edna Pilch is planning to do.

‘‘I do not plan on keeping the EPPICard. I am currently in the process of switching to direct deposit,’’ Pilch said. ‘‘I just don’t trust it anymore.’’


We reported last month Claire and John Cook’s customer service troubles with Castle Windows of Mount Laurel. The couple were dissatisfied when Castle installed new windows without the screens, which unbeknownst to the Cooks, wouldn’t arrive for many weeks. The Cooks needed the screens because they don’t have central air conditioning and they didn’t want to give summer bugs a free pass into their home.

The ink on the Bamboozled report was barely dry when the Cooks received a call from Castle Windows. The screens were in. The appointment was set. The screens were installed. The Cooks handed over the payment for the remaining balance — a bank check dated Aug. 10, when the job was started. Case closed.

Castle also sent the couple a check to cover the cost of the temporary screens Claire Cook purchased while they were waiting for the delivery.

Thanks, Castle, for finishing the job right.


In this challenging economy, thieves look for new opportunities to hustle, and struggling consumers are ripe for the picking. Desperate. So desperate they forget to use good sense on occasion.

Bamboozled was alerted by an unemployed reader, “Andy,” about a job scam that almost tempted him. Almost. (He requested anonymity to protect his job search.)

Andy visits half a dozen legitimate job search websites daily while he hunts for work. He posts his résumé, applies for jobs and e-mails lots of people, hoping that something will stick.

For a brief moment, it seemed his hard work may have paid off. He received an e-mail from an Anthony Davies, personnel manager for a company called International Design Center.

The e-mail said: ‘‘You have successfully completed the first stage of recruiting process.’’

The e-mail said the company would check his credit history, criminal record and employment history, but Andy had read enough. He didn’t remember applying to the company, and certain phrases in the e-mail were written awkwardly. It didn’t feel right.

Good for you, Andy.

The job in question — and many like it — are a common scam in these days of high unemployment. Someone is “hired” to process customer payments. The employee deposits these payments into a personal account. After deducting a commission, the employee sends a check for the remaining amount to the “home office.” Weeks later, the original check bounces and the employee is on the hook for the funds he sent to the “home office.”

To protect yourself from similar scams, avoid job offers that involve moving money into and out of a personal account. Be suspicious of e-mail solicitations from companies you haven’t contacted. Significant grammar and spelling errors, or notes written by those who speak poor English, should be treated warily.

And never, ever send money. If a potential boss requests you pay for training manuals, say no. Never share your credit card or bank account numbers with prospective employers you meet online. Real employers may need your Social Security number to perform a background check, but make sure this employer is legit — and that you can meet in person in a real office — before providing any information.