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EBT Theft: How It Happens and Replacing Stolen Benefits

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EBT theft is an awful crime impacting people nationwide. Illegal scams like skimming and phishing involve using your EBT card and government benefits without your knowledge.

Here’s what you need to know about how EBT theft works and how you can get your benefits replaced if you are a victim of this crime.


What are Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards?

If you get SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program) benefits, you’ll use an EBT card to buy food and essentials.

EBT cards work like debit cards. You can use them at Walmart, Dollar General, and other places that accept food stamps and at certain ATMs to withdraw cash benefits. To checkout at a store that accepts EBT, swipe your card and enter your PIN number. Many retailers across the country also allow you to use your EBT card online for grocery delivery.

How do I receive benefits on an EBT card?

Each month, your benefits deposit onto your EBT card on a specific day determined by your state's schedule. Typically, your benefits are used in the order in which they’re received, and roll over to the next month if they aren’t used. However, there are limits to how long benefits are kept on your card. Those rules vary by state.

If you don’t use your benefits often, contact your local benefits office to see how long you can keep your benefits. Always make sure your address is current with your benefits office. You'll get a notice 30 days before losing unused benefits permanently.

What is 'EBT theft' or 'benefits theft'?

Criminals can steal EBT card numbers and PINs just like they can steal credit and debit card info — even if you have your card with you. Scammers use tricks like card skimming and phishing to capture your card details and spend your benefits or make copies of your card (card cloning).

Skimming is where thieves copy EBT card information using hidden devices on card-reading machines at stores and ATMs. Illegal card readers could be anywhere that people physically swipe EBT cards, and they are difficult to spot. Store owners themselves might not know that there are skimming devices on their card readers or ATMs.

Phishing is when scammers send fake texts, calls, or emails with links to websites that trick people into giving their card numbers and PINs. Sometimes, fraudsters may just ask for your EBT information directly through the phone.

In both types of theft, someone steals your EBT card details even if you always have your card with you.

How do I identify EBT theft?

Signs of EBT theft include unexpected balance discrepancies or transactions you don't recognize. Regularly monitoring your EBT account can help spot unauthorized use early.

Apps like ebtEDGE, ConnectEBT, and Providers help you track your EBT card balance and activity to monitor your benefits. Hackers cannot get information needed to steal benefits from an EBT card through Providers. We do not store or have access to your EBT card details, meaning we can’t spend or move your benefits either. Read more about how Providers helps fight EBT theft here.

Can I recover stolen SNAP or cash benefits?

Yes, report EBT theft immediately to get replacement benefits. Call the customer service line on your EBT card or use our state EBT guides to find your state's instructions for starting the claims process. Documenting unauthorized transactions can help your case. Expect to provide detailed information about the theft, including any evidence of fraudulent activity.

While the process might seem daunting, state agencies are there to assist you. Federal law mandates states to replace benefits stolen from October 1, 2022 to September 30, 2024. Your state may also reimburse you after this period.

How do I protect my benefits?

Protect your EBT card just like you would a bank card: Keep your PIN secret and hide the pin pad when entering your PIN. Change your PIN before your benefits arrive each month.

When shopping, check card readers at checkout for signs of a skimming device such as glue marks, damaged or loose parts, or buttons on the keypad that are off-center or hard to push. Before you put your card into the machine, wiggle it to see if anything is loose. If you don't feel comfortable, you can ask the cashier to check for you.

Awareness and vigilance are key defenses against EBT theft. EBT cards don’t have banks monitoring suspicious activity for you like with credit cards. Always be alert for charges you don’t recognize, and think twice before responding to texts or calls about your EBT card that could be scams.

If you see an unfamiliar transaction, call your state’s EBT hotline number right away. Your state may require you to change your PIN, report your card stolen, and/or request a new card. Your state may also offer EBT card lock/unlock features or out-of-state and online transaction blocking. Check your state's benefits website for more information on these tools.

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