In August, it was discovered that nearly $1 million in SNAP benefits and $250,000 in DTA (Department of Transitional Assistance) cash benefits have been stolen from approximately 2,000 Massachusetts households primarily in the Brockton, Quincy, Boston area. The federal USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, are accessible only to those who are lower income and have limited resources, with different eligibility requirements for the elderly and disabled. MassLegalServices reported in a blog article, URGENT: 120,000 households need to re-PIN, info & action steps, that an organized criminal ring has been stealing benefits from individuals through a type of theft called skimming in which electronic devices added to ATM and credit cards machines copy card information. After obtaining the card information, the criminals create clones of the cards and steal funds. According to the FBI, individuals and financial institutions lose over $1 billion each year due to skimming. The criminals also tried to obtain EBT card information and PINs by sending fake text messages to cardholders from DTA claiming there were problems with the card.
As a result of the widespread theft and the impact on SNAP households, the DTA is requiring that 120,000 households in the Brockton, Quincy, and Nubain Square DTA local office coverage area re-PIN their EBT card. If cardholders have not created a new PIN by August 23, then DTA will remove the PIN so that the card will not be available for use until a new PIN has been set.
MassLegalServices noted that although DTA is able to replace the stolen cash benefits for those affected cardholders, the SNAP benefits cannot be replaced due to federal USDA rules.
These types of financial crimes targeted at low-income households, which includes the elderly and disabled continue to rise. It is essential for family members and advocates to keep their loved ones informed of the importance of changing their EBT card PIN regularly and being watchful for signs of skimming.
Below are recommendations for people to protect their financial information:
- DTA only sends texts from 382-674. Never provide your personal information or EBT card number to unidentified callers or in a link provided via text.
- Look for credit card machines that have crooked, enlarged, or other strange appearances. The overlay on a store’s card-swiping machine will be bigger than the regular keypad and screen and may cover parts of the equipment.
- Use ATMs inside and at the bank if possible. ATMs in gas stations or those outside or in tourist areas are highly vulnerable to criminal activity.
- Cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN to prevent it from being seen by a camera.
- Use gas pump credit card machines that are within view of the attendant as those are less likely to be targeted for theft or pay inside the station.
Source: URGENT: 120,000 households need to re-PIN, info & action steps, MassLegalServices