Consumer Alert: The government has left SNAP recipients vulnerable to cybertheft — here’s how to protect yourself

Consumer Alert: The government has left SNAP recipients vulnerable to cybertheft — here’s how to protect yourself

This consumer alert is an urgent warning about skimming. We’ve reported a number of instances in our area where thieves have stolen credit card information with skimming devices. But there’s one group of New Yorkers that’s far more vulnerable. It’s SNAP recipients. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides food assistance to the neediest families in our country.

They are the most vulnerable to fraud because the government loads their funds on a card that doesn’t have a chip, only a magnetic stripe. That makes them more vulnerable to skimming. And when that happens, SNAP recipients, the most vulnerable among us, are losing the money that feeds their families. And we, as taxpayers. are giving our tax dollars to thieves.

We’ve reported a rash of skimming incidents in the Rochester area. News10NBC obtained security video from a store in Penfield in which a middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap pushed a shopping cart up to a point-of-sale terminal. But he wasn’t shopping. He was a thief. He quickly and deftly clipped a skimming device over the terminal that looked exactly like the original face of the terminal.

Most skimmers read the magnetic stripe when you swipe your card, and the cards the government provides for SNAP recipients, EBT cards, have only a magnetic stripe.

“They’re [cards with only a magnetic stripe] really easy to replicate and really easy to get this information off of, explained Ali Solehdin, Chief Product and Strategy Officer for Inetco, a cybersecurity software company. .”Chip cards have all of their data encrypted on them.”

So why doesn’t the government provide chip cards instead? They’re expensive. But fraud is expensive as well. According to the New York office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, more than 20,000 claims of SNAP skimming totaling more than $16 million have been reported since January of 2022. And that’s not all. There have been 12,000 claims of public assistance skimming, totaling more than $4 in stolen funds during the same period.

Earlier this year, six SNAP recipients sued the federal government for failing to reimburse them after skimmers stole all their money off their EBT cards.  The complaint says the theft was devastating, “leaving them with no way to feed their families.”

“Anything that the state can do to protect the most vulnerable of society but also to taxpayer dollars is needs to be done,” said Solehdin.  

In the interest of full disclosure, Solehdin’s company, Inetco, creates AI software designed to recognize this type of fraud and stop it.  So I contacted the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and asked if its considering that kind of software.  A spokesman didn’t answer that question but did say changing to chip cards needs to be done on the federal level. So I checked with the feds.  And the USDA’s website indicates some states are currently moving to chip cards on their own.

There is some good news for SNAP fraud victims.  Congress passed legislation in December of 2022 allowing for the USDA to reimburse skimming victims who had funds stolen between Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2024.  The states had to submit plans outlining its procedures for reimbursement.  New York has submitted its plan and it has been approved.  Reimbursements will begin later this month.  But New York plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue the legislation doesn’t go far enough because it fails to reimburse victims who were defrauded before Oct. 1, 2022.

Until permanent changes are made to EBT cards, protecting your funds card is up to you.  Always examine the point-of-sale terminal before you swipe.  Click here for the USDA’s advice for preventing skimming, and here for tips from the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

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