Calling the phone number on the back of his electronic benefit transfer card to check his balance before taking his son to the grocery store this week, a Lewiston dad heard a perky, come-hither voice answer and figured he’d dialed the wrong number.
Only he hadn’t.
In a misprint on some cards, the number to report a lost or stolen card to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is actually the number of a phone sex line for women.
It’s one digit off from the DHHS Customer Service number.
When called, the incorrect line immediately picks up and a recorded voice says: “Welcome to America’s hottest talk line. Ladies, to talk with interesting and exciting guys free, press 1 now. Press 1 now.” Then hangs up.
“It played over my (car) speaker. I was like, ‘Wow, I must have messed that number up somehow really bad,'” said Lj Langelier, 25. “I look at the card. I dial it the exact same way again and it keeps happening. I thought it was just hilarious.”
He ended up posting a video of the card and of himself making another call on Facebook.
DHHS spokesman John Martins said Friday afternoon that the department was aware the number “is off by one digit and therefore incorrect.”
“The defect has been corrected on all new EBT cards being issued,” he said. “We have a plan in place to replace all existing defective cards and have taken additional steps to strengthen our review process so this type of inadvertent error does not occur again.”
Martins said the department had been aware of the mistake “for some time.” It wasn’t clear how many cards contain the misprint.
“I do know that cards that have been produced for the last several months have been accurate,” he said.
Martins also added: “While we recognize that we are responsible for this inadvertent error, what we have learned is that it appears the company that operates this chat line searches for phone numbers that are very similar to widely published government phone numbers and buys them to take advantage of either consumers who misdial or an inadvertent error in publishing the number.”
Langelier said that after he discovered the wrong number on his card, he asked neighbors, “‘Let’s compare cards. Maybe it’s just mine.’ Theirs were the same.”
He believes he’s had the blue Pine Tree EBT card for six to 12 months. The back of the card has three spots for phone numbers that should be identical: one for retailer assistance, one for “if lost, call” in small print and one for customer service in large print.
Callers to the misprinted number who “press 1” are told they have to be 18 or over and directed to call a different number for the actual chats.
Langelier was initially hesitant to make the error public due to the stigma of people receiving welfare — pointing out that he works 40 hours a week despite a medical condition, his fianceé is in college and they have two children — but he ultimately decided it was too funny to ignore.
“I just wanted people to have a good laugh,” he said.