Stolen EBT funds: How secure are these cards?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Some of Central Florida’s most vulnerable families rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits -- also known as SNAP or food stamps. But in Florida alone, there are thousands of complaints and millions of dollars gone after SNAP users had their benefits stolen in recent months.


When you shop for groceries these days it seems almost everyone is feeling the pinch.

“Right now, the economy and everything’s like so high. Prices of food going up, groceries going up,” said Taurneshia Owens, a mother of three. She was stunned when she tried to use her EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) Card at a central Florida convenience store.

Owens told Action 9 Consumer Investigator Jeff Deal, “My card declined. It was the exact day that my deposit is in.”

When she checked her account on the SNAP benefits app, she saw the problem. There were two transactions by someone in south Florida and $725 were gone.

Owens said, “I haven’t been in Miami in years. I don’t know nobody in Miami, no nothing. So, it’s like, how did my card get used?”

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Action 9 has been highlighting problems with SNAP benefit or food stamp fraud over the past several years and it seems the problems has grown. In fact, it became so bad that in 2022 Congress approved millions of dollars, so states could create a plan to reimburse EBT card users for stolen benefits.

From October of 2023 to the end of March, Florida had more than 7600 complaints about stolen SNAP benefits with more than 92% of the complaints approved for reimbursement. The total cost to taxpayers in those six months was more than $3.3 million dollars.

“One mom called me on my cell phone at 10:30pm, sobbing and she was in the checkout line trying to figure out what to,” said Vicky Negus, with the non-profit group Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

Negus knows this is a huge problem and she believes much of it is pulled off by organized crime.

“By international and national criminal rings who have been skimming their account information in the checkout line,” said Negus.

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She says a big part of the problem is the cards themselves. Unlike most credit and debit cards, EBT cards don’t have chip technology and must be swiped. That leaves consumers vulnerable to skimming devices.

SNAP benefit recipient Lily Kondratyuk said, “Kind of felt embarrassed because like it said I have like $700 in my card, and then it declined, you know?”

In Florida, victims can report stolen benefits through the Department of Children and Families’ website. Several U.S. Senators have filed a bill to turn EBT cards into chip cards that won’t have to be swiped. The idea is that it will help prevent skimming.

In the meantime, the federal funding to reimburse stolen SNAP benefit victims is set to run out at the end of September. Vicky Negus believes Congress needs to act now to extend those benefits while states work to harden their systems.

Negus said, “And that is our biggest concern, today. We don’t have a plan and we need one.”

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The idea is to keep families who really need the benefits from paying the price for this fraud.

Taurneshia Owens said, “I posted a Facebook post on Facebook yesterday. I got like 100 or 200 comments on that just people saying oh, this happened to them.”

The Department of Children and Families told Action 9 it has developed a robust state plan to combat fraud. Its process includes validating the claims, promptly replacing the stolen benefits and educating people on best security practices.

It also wants those impacted to make sure they report any suspected theft. That can be done by clicking here.

For additional information, you can visit the SNAP Stolen Benefits FAQ page by clicking here.

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Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal, WFTV.com

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.