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EBT card-skimming scam leaves victims in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere in limbo

SNAP benefits reportedly spent in places where EBT cardholders have never been
SNAP benefits reportedly spent in places where EBT cardholders have never been 02:23

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Since the start of this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services noted more than 2,400 stolen SNAP benefit requests have been filed across the state. A spokesperson said it is unclear how many are from a recent card skimming scam targeting these benefits.

Over the last several days, CBS News Philadelphia has heard from dozens of people living in and outside the Delaware Valley.

Takiyah Holmes was at a loss for words on Tuesday. Last week, she said her SNAP benefits were stolen and used at stores in New York City. All that is left, she said, is $0.25 in cash assistance.

"I drove through New York but I never, ever been to New York a day in my life," Holmes said.

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Holmes said she reported the fraud to the Delaware County Assistance Office and the police. She has since received a new EBT card but is still waiting for her benefits.

Vanda Jones has a similar story. The single mother lives in New York City and said her benefits were drained from her account last week too.

"I thought maybe it was a mistake," Jones said.

Jones noted the fraudulent transactions happened at stores in Philadelphia and Reading. She said she had never been to either city. Jones also filed a police report and went to her local assistance office to fill out a complaint.

"Everyone in the office was there because their benefits were stolen, nobody was there to apply. Everyone was there because it was stolen. I was like OK, this is very strange," Jones recalled.

Both women are looking for answers and hoping replacement benefits come soon.

A Pennsylvania Department of Human Services spokesperson said, "The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) works diligently to make sure that the benefits DHS administers get to the Pennsylvanians who need them. Per federal regulation (7 CFR § 274.6(a)), DHS provides replacement SNAP benefits when they are determined stolen electronically or if a household lost food in a disaster, such as a flood or a tornado, or a devastating event, such as a fire."

What can I do if my SNAP benefits were stolen?

A New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance spokesperson warned New York EBT cardholders to be aware of potential scams:

"OTDA takes seriously any report of benefit theft and continues to work in close collaboration with local, state, and federal authorities to provide any information they require that will help bring perpetrators to justice. All EBT cardholders, however, should remain vigilant about these scams and take several basic precautions to protect themselves, including carefully inspecting point-of-sale devices, changing their PIN regularly, reviewing transaction history frequently, and freezing their card immediately after use."

A New Jersey Department of Human Services spokesperson said the state's budget for the Division of Family Development includes money to provide SNAP benefit recipients with new EBT cards with microchips to prioritize families getting the full value of their benefits and enhance security. In a statement shared with CBS News Philadelphia, the spokesperson wrote:

"Theft of SNAP household benefits has been on the rise nationwide. We understand the impact that falling victim to this type of fraud can have on individuals and families who rely on these benefits to purchase groceries. On December 29, 2022, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act into law, allowing states to replenish lost benefits. Prior to this law being signed, states had no authority to replace benefits that had been stolen from a SNAP household. The program to replace electronically stolen benefits was launched in New Jersey in July 2023. The program has allowed for the replacement of benefits that had been stolen since October 2022 through the end of September 2024. The Governor's budget for the next fiscal year includes $1.65 million in funding for the Division of Family Development to provide households with new EBT cards that have embedded microchips, which prioritizes families getting the full value of their benefits and enhances card security. Since the replacement program started, $5 million in electronically stolen benefits have been replaced in response to about 10,000 claims. To further protect SNAP beneficiaries against these types of scams, the Department has added a pop-up fraud warning on NJSNAP.gov. Individuals impacted can notify their local board of social services if they have been a victim of skimming."

An NYC Department of Social Services Human Resources Administration spokesperson provided tips for EBT cardholders to ensure their security and safety:

 "Electronic benefits theft is a cruel and malicious practice that targets some of New York City's most vulnerable residents and deprives them of the critical resources they need to keep themselves and their families healthy, fed, and housed. To defend against skimming, phishing, and other scams, EBT cardholders should regularly change their PIN, monitor their EBT account for suspicious transactions, avoid sharing their card details, and closely inspect card readers for evidence of a skimming device. We also recommend that cardholders begin utilizing the new EBT card freeze feature that allows them to block transactions when their card is not in use.

"Since replacement benefits became available last summer, we have approved over 65,000 claims, totaling over $26 million, in replacement Cash Assistance and SNAP benefits. We are proud to have been able to reconnect these individuals with the benefits that are rightfully theirs, and we look forward [to] helping more New Yorkers recoup their stolen benefits. The fastest and easiest way to submit a claim is through DSS-HRA's online form, but individuals can also submit a claim through the mail, or in-person at their local SNAP or Benefits Access Center."

If you are a Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware resident on SNAP benefits and have noticed your EBT balance has been drained, here are some of the next steps you can take

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