Officials Panic After Millions Lost In SNAP Benefit Theft

Millions of dollars worth of SNAP benefits in New York are being stolen from EBT cards, lawmakers have warned.

Zohran Mamdani, a member of the state Assembly, warned that in just the last six months, there have been 61,000 instances of fraud related to electronic benefit transfer cards. That has totaled $17 million in total theft.

Mandani says that this has become a “crisis” in his region, which is the 36th district in New York.

SNAP benefits, from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are given out to recipients on EBT cards. Every month, they’re loaded up with money that they can use at stores that participate in the program throughout the country.

Every time someone uses an EBT card, the information can be copied by a thief, Mamdani said. Many do it by installing a device on a card reader at the store, which allows them to steal the card information as well as the PIN.

One of the main security issues with the EBT cards is that they are still magnet stripe cards and don’t have the advanced security that modern credit cards do — such as security chips and even tap to pay.

A spokesperson for Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, another member of the state Assembly who’s concerned about this theft, said she’s working on new legislation that would replace the swipe cards with chip card technology.

As she said:

“Last year, I worked on passing one of my bills, which would allow our state to reimburse New Yorkers who have been victims of public benefits skimming and there was some interest in doing so.

“Unfortunately, in the end, we did not see an adequate investment of state dollars by the governor to address this issue, which is impacting families every day and has not slowed down.”

Gonzalez-Rojas added that upping the security on the EBT cards would result in theft going down significantly. She added:

“New Yorkers are going hungry, and it is time we address this once and for all and stop the spending of dollars to address this with band-aids.”

Gonzalez-Rojas’s proposal would replace the magnet stripe cards with EMV cards. That acronym stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa — the three companies that created the security standard for payment cards.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated a pilot program in 2023 that would modernize the SNAP program. It included using mobile contactless technology to allow people to use their SNAP benefits.

It was rolled out to people in Oklahoma, Missouri, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Illinois.

When the program was rolled out, Stacy Dean, the deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the USDA, said:

“Digital wallets are changing the way we pay for everything, including groceries. We want to ensure SNAP leverages the latest technology to improve access to benefits, reduce fraud and provide a better overall experience for the families we serve.”

New York law currently states that people have to wait 30 days to be reimbursed for any SNAP benefits that are stolen. And if the theft happened via card cloning, skimming or phishing, the funds can be reimbursed just twice.