ATLANTA — New efforts are underway to get money back to Georgia families who rely on the SNAP program and have fallen victim to thieves.
"It's about these individuals that are going to the grocery store trying to fill up their food card so that they can nourish and feed their families, and when they get there and they swipe their EBT card, there's no money," Haywood Talcove, CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions' Government Group, explained.
Talcove's team started looking into the issue following alerts from the USDA and warnings that scammers are trying to steal the money that feeds millions across the country,
"They have to know that this is a problem that is exploding," Talcove said, pointing to the federal agency.
He believes older technology leaves SNAP families vulnerable, while the agency could require updates like identity verification and mandatory chip enabled cards and card readers to better protect month benefits.
Right now, no SNAP state agencies use chip cards, a spokesperson with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service confirmed, but the agency is continuing to look at technology that can improve access and security.
“While card skimming can impact anyone who uses a credit, debit or EBT card, they may hit SNAP households—who rely on their monthly benefits to buy food for themselves and their families—the hardest," a spokesperson shared in a statement. "What these thieves are doing is deplorable, and FNS will not tolerate it in our programs. We are working with our state and federal partners to protect your SNAP benefits."
Meanwhile, Congress has pushed to get families reimbursed. Under the federal spending law passed in December, SNAP recipients who had benefits stolen since Oct. 1 can be reimbursed for up two months of payments, twice yearly.
States have a deadline of Feb. 23 to submit their plan to federal partners; Georgia's Department of Human Resources confirmed to 11Alive that officials are currently working on that plan in accordance with the law.
Talcove said reimbursements are a start, but not a fix.
"What they're doing is they're leaving the most vulnerable, the food insecure, in a situation where it's Russian roulette," Talcove said. "Will their card work? Will it have benefits on it or not?
Here's how SNAP recipients can keep themselves safe from fraudsters trying to steal their benefits:
- Georgia DHS asks recipients not to share their card number or PIN with anyone.
- Recipients can also call their local offices to verify texts or calls.
- Customers were told if they receive a text asking them to call an 877 number to unlock their EBT card, to not reply at all and just delete the message.
The department asks those who have fallen victim to the phishing scam to contact the DHS Office of Inspector General at 844-694-2347 or email the office here.
To help prevent card skimming, the USDA recommends the following:
- Keep your PIN and card number secret. Do not share your PIN or card number with anyone outside your household. Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN on a machine.
- Beware of Phishing: EBT processors will not call or text you to ask for your PIN or card number.
- Change your PIN often. Change your PIN at least once a month, ideally right before your benefit issuance date.
- Check your EBT account regularly for unauthorized charges. If you notice any, change your PIN immediately to stop the thief from making any new purchases. Report any suspicious activity to your local SNAP office.
- If you believe you are the victim of card skimming and SNAP benefits were stolen from your EBT card, contact your local SNAP office.