SNAP benefits for food targeted in card skimming scam

USDA says they are aware of several reports of criminals using phony text messages to obtain EBT card numbers and PINs.
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 9:39 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- As grocery prices continue to soar, SNAP benefits for food are being targeted by thieves, according to a new warning issued by the USDA. The agency says it has received several reports of card skimming of EBT cards. “Thieves place a device on a retailer’s card-swiping machine to copy EBT card information. Card skimming can happen to anyone that uses a credit, debit or EBT card, including SNAP participants,” the agency wrote in an alert. Once the information is stolen, thieves can use it to create fake EBT cards and drain the accounts.

It’s unclear how much money has been lost for people who rely on food assistance. “For them to just have those funds go missing is terrible,” said Ginger John, a spokesperson for the United Food Bank. “Timing couldn’t be worse. Incomes are the same but all the expenses are higher, especially with the groceries.”

Tasya Peterson, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which oversees the SNAP program in the state, confirms an increase in SNAP fraud related to card skimming, as reports of other credit card skimming have also increased in Arizona. EBT card skimming incidents are investigated by the DES Office of the Inspector General.

“Being a victim of fraud has a serious impact on families in need of assistance,” Peterson said. “Any EBT cardholders who notice suspicious or fraudulent activity on their accounts should contact FIS, our EBT card vendor, to have their card replaced. FIS Customer Service can be reached at 888-997-9333. To protect yourself against skimming, DES says you should ask the cashier to check the payment terminal for signs of tampering. That includes self-checkout registers. The agency also says you should avoid keeping a large balance in your EBT account, change your PIN regularly, and freeze your card when it is not in use. EBT cardholders should also track their balances, and report any problems immediately.

John says it is also critical to ask for assistance if you are a victim of EBT card skimming and can’t afford the food you need. “Everybody needs help sometimes. It’s ok to reach out for help. There are lots of people who want to help, so if that happens, get on our website, find the closest place to you and come and get some food until you can get things figured out,” she said.

According to DES, card skimming victims can ask the retailer to reverse fraudulent transactions, but EBT cards are not insured by the federal government and lost or stolen benefits cannot be replaced.

The USDA says it has also received reports of phishing scams related to EBT cards. The agency says criminals will send text messages, asking users to provide EBT card numbers and PINs to steal SNAP benefits. “These are known as phishing scams and are a type of fraud. Do not provide your EBT card number or PIN by phone or text,” the USDA cautioned.