EPPICard is a state-sanctioned debit card onto which child support benefits for more than 70,000 families are placed in New Jersey. Twenty-five states use the card, managed by Affiliated Computer Services, or ACS, which is owned by Xerox.
New Jersey has several contracts with ACS worth more than $140 million since 2004 — contracts that keep getting extended. Despite consumer grievances about high fees and questionable investigations of fraud complaints, the state hasn’t yet been able to use its weight to negotiate a better deal for consumers — something it told Bamboozled several times it would do.
Carol Ruby receives child support payments on an EPPICard for her daughter Nicole Dowdell, 16.
On March 11, Ruby saw two identical pending charges of $80.24 for Microsoft Xbox LIVE, totaling $160.48, that she said were not hers.
The Egg Harbor Township woman said she immediately called the customer service number, and the rep said because the March 10 charges were “pending,” nothing could be done. The rep said Ruby should contact Microsoft, Ruby said.
“I called Microsoft Xbox Live and told them this was my child support money which had been stolen and that I do not, nor have ever owned an Xbox,” Ruby said. The Microsoft rep closed the account and marked it as fraudulent, but said it was not responsible for returning to money.
The charges posted to the account the next day, Ruby said, so she called EPPICard again. The rep took a telephone report and said Ruby would receive the paperwork to initiate a fraud investigation.
By March 21, Ruby said, nothing had arrived in the mail, so she called again. She told EPPICard to close that account number and Ruby paid $12 to have the new card sent by second-day mail.
She received the fraud forms on March 22, and she said she mailed them back the following day.
But her new EPPICard hadn’t arrived.
So Ruby said she called again, closed that account number, too, and paid another $12 to have yet another card mailed in two days.
The card did arrive, but all was quiet on the fraud front. On March 31, Ruby said, she called the company for an update and to make sure the paperwork had arrived.
Ruby said she was told her claim was being processed.
On April 6, Ruby had her response: the fraud claim was denied.
“After a thorough investigation and analysis of the information you have provided, we cannot confirm an error occurred and are respectfully denying your request,” the letter said.
“This is just plain and simple wrong,” Ruby said. “I do not have any idea how someone got my name and address and card number for this, and therefore do not know how to stop it from happening again.”
Meanwhile, in Newark, Tasha Black was also fighting a fraud claim with EPPICard on which she receives child support for her two children, 16 and 10.
She said she tried to use her card in a store at the end of April, but the card was declined.
“I went home, checked my transactions online and to my surprise, I had to two charges to Staples in Washington, D.C., totaling over $600,” she said.
Black said she immediately called EPPICard, and after waiting on hold for an hour,
Black said, the rep said he could do nothing, and she should contact Staples.
Pause: In past stories concerning EPPICard, Bamboozled confirmed the customer has no responsibility to contact the merchant in fraud cases, yet that was a common complaint of EPPICard fraud victims. ACS said it was planning to make that clear to customer service reps, but it seems the message hasn’t gotten through.
Back to Black. During that conversation with EPPICard, Black said, she asked for a manager, who cancelled her account, opened a new one, explained that nothing could be done because the charges were still “pending” and suggested she contact Staples directly.
When Black called EPPICard back five days later, she entered her account information into the automated system. The recording said her new card was being processed.
“Then the call was disconnected without any option to speak to a live person,” she said. “I can’t pull up my account online and I only get an error message stating my account is suspended for fraud and now I can’t speak to a live person either? This is frustrating and ridiculous.”
We reached out to see if ACS would take another look at these fraud claims.
Within two days, Ruby’s $160.48 was back in her account.
“I did everything I could do. It’s irritating how much time you spend on this when you know you didn’t do it, and you get nowhere” she said. “They even charged me for checking my balance.”
Ruby plans to switch to direct deposit.
Black, too, got her money back within a couple of days, but she had to wait nearly two weeks for a new EPPICard.
“I’ve already begun the steps of being done with the EPPI Card by completing the forms for direct deposit into my bank account,” Black said. “I honestly think reorganization and or retraining is an order for this company.”
We asked Ken Ericson, spokesman for ACS, if he could explain what went wrong for these customers.
“We are glad to help resolve these concerns and are constantly enhancing the systems that protect our cardholders,” he said, without further comment.
That’s all well and good, ACS, but after Bamboozled previously brought to your attention seven defrauded customers with very similar complaints — and you restored funds for each and every one of them — what are you enhancing now? Not to mention the many other EPPI complaints we’ve sent your way, and you resolved in the customer’s favor, that never appeared in this column. Like Bill Kinkle, a Pennsylvania EPPICard user who reported fraud charges of $966.19 — charges that were all made when Kinkle was hospitalized. Despite sharing with you his hospital discharge papers, you denied his claim. Until we asked you to take a look. Then he got his money back.
Exactly what about these fraud claims was different after Bamboozled brought them to your attention?
And to New Jersey: the state pays millions of dollars to ACS for a variety of services. The state has said in the past it’s waiting for contracts to expire so it can negotiate new deals for all the ACS contracts together. Isn’t it about time you negotiate better fees — and encourage more consistent and thorough investigations for fraud — for all EPPICard customers?
We explained the details of these complaints to the Department of Human Services (DHS), which handles child support payments, and asked if it thought it made sense that customers only got their money back after a reporter’s inquiries.
“The DHS urges EPPI card users to safeguard the card and PIN as they would with their bank debit and/or credit cards,” said DHS spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie. “It’s unfortunate that there are any instances of theft or fraud, at all, but ACS’ data prove it is not prevalent, and that its preventive and investigative processes are working. Efforts to build upon the company’s reputation for quality customer service are ongoing.”
Of course cardholders must take care with their cards and PINS, but none of these fraud charges was made with a PIN. They were processed as credit card transactions.
And the investigative processes are working? ACS reviews video tapes, hospital records and travel receipts and still denies claims, yet returns money when we ask for a closer look. Something certainly is not working.
DHS wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the contracts, and referred us back to Treasury.
“Treasury is exploring wording in the upcoming request for proposals from potential vendors, including ACS, that would address issues with complaint practices involving fraudulent charges made on clients’ cards,” said spokesman Andrew Pratt.
We’re looking forward to hearing as progress is made.