Marie Self dials the phone on the back of her debit card. Self, 58, is disabled and cares for three disabled grandchildren. The government sends her Social Security benefits on that card. Without it, she’s broke.
“The card number you entered is no longer active,” says the recorded voice on the other end of the phone. For more information on your account, press one.”
Self has been pressing one for three weeks, ever since the two cards containing Social Security benefits for her and the children were canceled without warning, apparently because of the data breach that exposed millions of Target customers to identity thieves. In a letter, the Treasury Department’s EPPICARD Fraud Department explained that the card was canceled as a “proactive” measure and promised that she would receive a replacement card in seven days. That was January 16. The card has yet to arrive.
Self said the cards are her sole source of income. During the three weeks since the cards were canceled, she said she has been unable to pay her meager bills and has scrambled to meet the children’s special dietary needs. She has had no money for gas. Both she and the children are running out of vital medicines, she said, which are usually purchased on the first of each month – in part with money from the government debit cards.
Self has called the toll-free number on the back of the card repeatedly. She said she was told that her cards were delayed “by the tremendous backlog of cards that had to be reissued after the Target data breach.”
A spokesman said the Treasury Department has issued between three and four million debit cards after it mandated that all government benefits be paid electronically. He said that since approximately one-third of all Americans were affected by the breach, it would be safe to assume that more than a million debit card holders were also affected.
That was little solace to Self, whose efforts to procure replacement cards have so far been in vain. At one point, she said, she broke down.
“I remember just locking myself in my bedroom so the children wouldn’t seem me cry, thinking, ‘What am I going to do? I can’t provide for them. When am I going to get these cards?’” Self said.
Combs contacted Walt Henderson, manager of the Treasury Department’s Direct Express debit card program, asking about delays in the effort to replace cards like Marie Self’s. “There is no hold up in replacing cards. Cards are replaced according to a schedule so as not to interrupt the use of the card by the cardholder if they are expecting a benefit payment,” he stated in an email to WSB Radio News. “Oftentimes, individual circumstances may exist that are not reflective of the entire card population.”