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Addressing Stolen SNAP Benefits

FNS is working closely with our state and federal partners, SNAP retailers, EBT processors, and other industry experts to protect SNAP benefits and combat SNAP fraud. Fraud will not be tolerated in FNS programs. SNAP benefit theft victimizes low-income people who rely on these benefits to feed their families.

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A summary by state of the replacement of stolen SNAP benefits process is included for reference. Any questions about specific state plans should be addressed to the SNAP state agency.

Replacing Stolen SNAP Benefits

In late December 2022, Congress passed a law to protect and replace SNAP benefits stolen via card skimming, card cloning, and other similar methods. The law requires states to replace such benefits that were stolen between Oct. 1, 2022, and Sept. 30, 2024. States can now use federal funds to provide these replacements following the procedures in their approved state plan. Replacement benefits cannot exceed the actual amount stolen or the household’s benefit allotment amount for the two months immediately preceding the theft, whichever is lesser.

Timeline

  • December 2022: Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, which allows state agencies to use federal funds to replace these stolen SNAP benefits.
  • January 2023: FNS issued guidance for states on developing a state plan and replacing these stolen benefits.
  • February 2023: By law, state agencies were required to submit their state plan to FNS by Feb. 27, 2023.
  • March 2023: FNS began reviewing and approving state plans for implementation. We compiled a list of approved state plans and estimated implementation dates. State plans will remain in effect until new FNS regulations on benefit replacements, issued under this new authority, take effect. FNS selects five states to test mobile payment technology for SNAP.
  • October 2023: FNS completed approval of all state plans for implementation and published a dashboard that displays state-reported data on stolen benefit claims and replacements in accordance with federal guidance. The dashboard will be refreshed quarterly as new data are received.

Tips and Resources

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SNAP Participants

  • Avoid simple PINs. Number combinations such as 1111, 1234 or 9876 may be easy for others to guess.
  • 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. State agencies and EBT processors will never call or text to ask for your PIN or card number.
  • Change your PIN often. Change your PIN at least once a month, right before your benefit issuance date.
  • Check your EBT account regularly for unauthorized charges. If you see any, change your PIN right away to stop the thief from making new purchases. Report suspicious activity to your local SNAP office.
  • Contact your local SNAP office. If you think you are the victim of card skimming and your SNAP benefits were stolen, contact your local SNAP office.
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State Agencies

  • Use the FNS and the Administration for Children and Families issued guidance to take actions to help prevent card skimming and other fraud.
  • Work with your EBT processor to enable available card security options.
  • Let SNAP households know how to opt into card security services that proactively protect their cards and PINs.
  • Join the state-led fraud workgroup that is taking steps to better understand card skimming and share prevention strategies. For more information, contact your FNS regional office.
  • Use best practices for keeping SNAP participants informed. Many states have active outreach campaigns to educate SNAP recipients about EBT card safety and ways to protect their benefits.
  • Provide education materials in multiple languages and post them to public websites.
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SNAP Retailers

  • Protect SNAP customers from card skimming at your point-of-sale (POS).
    • Inspect POS machines/PIN pads regularly (at least daily) to look for tampering.
    • Use surveillance cameras to monitor the POS machine/PIN pad and cash register area.
    • Do not allow unscheduled service visits.
  • Train employees to be aware of suspicious customer behavior.
  • Talk to your POS machine/PIN pad provider about the most secure POS equipment for your store and resources to help you prevent card skimming.
  • If you find a card skimmer or detect tampering, contact local police, your POS equipment provider, and the USDA Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-424-9121.
  • FNS provides retailers with guidance in multiple languages on how they can help protect SNAP customers from card skimming.

Questions and Answers

How are SNAP benefits “skimmed”?

Thieves place an illegal device on an ATM or a retailer’s card-swiping machine to copy EBT card information. This is called card skimming. Criminals can then use the information to make fake EBT cards. This is called card cloning. Thieves use the fake cards to purchase food and beverages from SNAP-authorized stores using stolen SNAP benefits.

Card skimming can also happen to people using a magnetic stripe to make purchases with a credit or debit card.

What is FNS doing to stop card skimming and protect SNAP recipients?

Many state agencies are pursuing enhanced card security options to protect SNAP recipients from card skimming schemes, as outlined in FNS’s guidance. State agencies have also initiated outreach campaigns to educate SNAP recipients on ways they can protect themselves. FNS continues to work with stakeholders, including states, EBT processors and law enforcement to explore various strategies for addressing benefit theft.

How is FNS working with law enforcement to hold criminals accountable?

The FNS Office of Retailer Operations and Compliance Special Investigations Unit has responded to numerous complaints of cloned and skimmed SNAP EBT cards throughout the country. FNS supports federal law enforcement by identifying suspicious EBT transactions and sharing locations where thieves are attempting to use cloned cards. FNS also conducts outreach with state and local partners to increase awareness of current SNAP fraud trends and to assist states with limited resources.

Where is benefit theft happening and how often?

Although we are aware of reports of benefit theft in some states, USDA does not have comprehensive data on the number of incidents for each state. As a result of the law passed in December 2022, states are required to collect data on the scope and frequency of card skimming and report regularly to FNS. This will help states, FNS and Congress better understand the magnitude of card skimming going forward.

Are any states using SNAP EBT cards with a chip?

No states currently issue SNAP EBT cards with a chip, though some are in the planning stages. FNS continues to explore ways to improve security for SNAP EBT card payments. Additionally, FNS will soon test mobile contactless payments in SNAP, which may help prevent card skimming. See the request for volunteers and March 2023 press release for more information.

Do stores that participate in SNAP have a separate point-of-sale terminal to accept EBT cards?

No. SNAP EBT payments are generally integrated with other payment systems and use the same POS machine that is used for credit or debit card payments.

Page updated: June 05, 2024