Hackers stole thousands of dollars from needy Pueblo County families: Here’s what we know

Stories of anxiety and heartbreak are swirling around this week’s surprise and seemingly well-orchestrated hack of relief benefits received by Pueblo County residents.

Food funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is missing from some Pueblo County residents’ accounts. Payments to some clients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients have disappeared.

Victims must figure out how to feed their families, obtain expensive insulin for diabetic children or diapers for their infants. A total of 135 cases of theft were reported this week by Pueblo County Department of Human Services benefit recipients, totaling $73,991 in losses.

According to the Pueblo County Department of Social Services, as of Friday afternoon, affected local residents included 24 adult financial clients who reported losses of $16,723; 40 Colorado Works Temporary Assistance for Needy Families clients totaling $19,344 and 71 food benefit clients receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits totaling $37,923.

A victim’s story

One of the victims is Amanda Welty-Soto, who is raising two children and going to college in Pueblo. The 39-year-old is looking to become a paralegal.

In her case, $540 of her $559 monthly TANF funding was stolen at 2:45 a.m. June 2 from a Wells Fargo bank ATM in Denver. It had just been dropped off at midnight.

Fortunately, she was able to take steps to protect her food funding.

Amanda Welty-Soto and her son Daeryus, 14, (left) and daughter Geneviecia, 13, enjoy a recent baseball game.

“We’re trying to get ourselves out of poverty and having these funds taken away is going to put a lot of people in a really bad situation,” Welty-Soto said. “When I look at the people who are affected, I wish there was more empathy for the situation – they are disrupting people’s livelihoods – they took a whole month” of income from me.

Welty-Soto helps facilitate a support group of women who have worked together in career development classes. Instead of complaining about the theft, she begins researching to see if she can help her fellow victims.

When she went to the Pueblo County Department of Social Services office at 320 W. 10th St. to make a report, she was surprised to see how many people were in the office making similar reports flight.

“People were crying, some didn’t understand what was happening, others were angry,” she said.

The state’s response to theft

“Any time benefits are stolen from Coloradans, it concerns us,” said Jordan Saenz, deputy director of communications for the Colorado Department of Human Services. “However, we are not aware of any widespread theft or hacking of TANF benefits statewide.”

Saenz said the state has received 2,470 reported cases of SNAP theft out of more than 310,000 households that receive SNAP statewide. She said counties are not required to report TANF and financial theft by adults to the state because they can repay those funds on…

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