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Illinois Link card drained of money by hackers, women say, leaving them unable to use grocery benefits

CHICAGO (WLS) — Two Chicago-area women said they were unable to buy groceries after scammers emptied their Illinois Link cards.

The state issues Link cards to help low-income people buy food, the state’s version of food stamps. The two women said they tried to buy food with their card, but couldn’t because a hacker beat them to it. The most frustrating part, they said, is that the state refuses to issue a refund.

Tatera Hooks said on January 4, 2022 that she was in the hospital battling COVID-19. She beat the virus and returned home to Bronzeville, but when she tried to order groceries, she noticed something odd.

“When I checked my Link card balance, it only had $4.96 on it,” she explained. “I looked on the provider’s app and could see there were a total of six transactions made on my card, and it all happened in California. I figure I wasn’t not even in California.”

A total of $1,500 in purchases were made out of state, the same day Hooks said she was in the hospital.

“I can’t be in two places at once. I can’t be in Chicago and California at the same time while I was battling COVID,” Hooks said. “Also, the card was in my possession while I was in the hospital.”

She said she didn’t know anyone in California and hadn’t shared her card information with anyone.

“I feel like it’s hacking. They scammed my card. If someone can scam a debit card or a credit card, they can scam a Link card,” she said .

McHenry’s Roymona Owens is a mother of three and relies on her Link card to feel family. She said her account was depleted to just $0.49; the thief stole nearly $1,200 in benefits from his card.

The charges were made at several L.A. grocery stores, but Ownes said she had never visited LA

“I don’t have any relatives in California either,” she said. “I felt hurt. I felt drained. My heart ached. I cried. I cried for days. I had to love, see how I would feed my children. And I actually had my card on me when they were using my card number.”

The two women ask themselves the same question: how could such a thing happen?

The Illinois Department of Human Services said in a statement, “IDHS is deeply concerned about any Illinois resident who is the subject of potential benefits fraud. The privacy and security of cardholder information Link Cardholders are critically important and we urge all Link Cardholders to keep theirs with over 2 million Link Cardholders, we receive very few fraud reports each year.”

IDHS also told I-Team it will continue to maintain strict measures to prevent fraud, but when it comes to refunds, the department said federal guidelines won’t allow it, even if there is fraud. presumed.

Hooks and Owens find this rule troubling and unacceptable.

“I understand there has to be a proper investigation, but people need their pills and their perks to survive,” Hooks said.

“I hope I can get my funds back on my card because it was a fraud and I want to put an end to it,” Owens explained.

IDHS said it was working with its card provider and local law enforcement to investigate the transactions in California, but the agency maintains federal guidelines won’t allow them to refund the funds.

Both ladies feel ignored.

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