BOSTON (WWLP) – The 22News Investigative Team has received multiple complaints over the past three months about thefts of federal benefits from individuals.

Several Springfield area residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds say that their accounts were hacked and depleted, leaving them without any way to purchase food or other necessities. When recipients filed complaints with the state, they were informed that the issue is due to ‘skimming’ and that the funds would not be replaced.

SNAP is a federal program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), administered by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to state residents.

The 22News I-Team contacted DTA to get clarification on the issue.

According to DTA, they are aware of an increase in skimming and phishing schemes that have impacted some recipients. Thieves put a device on a store’s card-swiping machine to copy card and PIN information. They use the information to make fake Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards which are then used to steal money or SNAP funds from real accounts. Skimming can happen anywhere someone swipes an EBT card.

DTA says they are not aware, and there is no indication, of a security breach related to EBT. The state has issued warnings to recipients to change their EBT card PIN before each time they get their benefits to protect against theft. They also warn against responding to texts, phone calls, or emails requesting confidential information about their identity or card information.

The state is encouraging businesses and banks to check their ATM and card machines often for skimming devices.

DTA told 22News that the federal government is working on ways to reimburse stolen funds:

  • The recently signed into law (on 12/29/2022) federal Congressional Consolidated Appropriations Act 2023 creates a new option for states to reimburse for the first time some SNAP benefits that were stolen through illegally skimmed EBT cards.
    • The Act limits the reimbursement to benefits stolen between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2024.
    • The Act also requires that states receive approval from the federal government on a plan to do this. Once approved, states will be able to reimburse the amount that was stolen, up to a limited amount.
    • DTA is diligently working with the federal government on a plan to implement this as quickly as possible and anticipate having more information in the coming months.

The USDA issued a national warning about SNAP/EBT skimming theft in October 2022. You can find that warning and how to report theft at the USDA website.

The 22News I-Team contacted USDA about the benefits thefts and possible reimbursement. We have not received any statement from them as yet.

DTA continues to create multiple strategies to warn clients of skimming scams and ways to protect their benefits, including:

  • Sending text messages and notices to clients.
  • Adding an alert on the agency’s mobile client app DTA Connect.
  • Inserting flyers in regular DTA mailings and providing them in DTA local offices
  • Creating a dedicated webpage and adding information at the top of DTA’s homepage.
  • Disseminating materials in 11 languages to clients and SNAP providers.
  • Sending out media advisories statewide and to impacted areas. 
  • Updating messages on the DTA Assistance Line to include this information.
  • Creating videos in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language (ASL).
  • Working with related agencies, community partners, legislators, our EBT vendor, and retailers to notify clients to change their PIN regularly and to assist them with doing so. 
  • To protect DTA clients and their benefits from known skimming scams, DTA has, and continues to, require cardholders in locations with a high incidence of skimming to set a new PIN to continue to use their EBT card if they have not received a new card or changed their PIN recently.