NEW YORK (WABC)—— Eyewitness News has learned that in the last month, New York City received more than 18,000 claims of stolen electronic benefits for food stamps and cash assistance.
The money was stolen from people’s state-issued debit cards.
Tamara Simmons of Brownsville told Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne about her welfare, “It came up at midnight and then I checked it this morning, Found it missing,” Simmons said as she waited outside the city’s Office of Human Resources Management in downtown Brooklyn recently.
Lola Johnson of Manhattanville said scammers stole $200 from her debit card.
“They took everything!” she said.
The city believes the money was stolen after people swiped their debit cards at machines equipped with skimming devices. This is a scam happening all over the country.
Lashaye Simmons of Hunts Point said she was $160 short of benefits.
“Whoever took my money in California only left me $18,” she said.
Daniel Clennon of East New York said his money was also stolen.
“Once it’s loaded onto the card, it automatically leaves the card,” he said.
Arianna Ballierajh of Richmond Hill said she first noticed the fraudulent withdrawals in July.
“As soon as I got the money, I spent it all that day,” she said.
Ballierajh said she has not yet received a refund for the $500 in stolen benefits.
The city said that until recently, it was unable to return money to people due to federal regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamp benefits.
The city said it has distributed more than $4.5 million in replacement benefits since Aug. 21. The City says replacement SNAP benefits are funded by federal SNAP funds, while replacement cash assistance benefits come from funds set aside in the New York State budget.
“Until recently, victims of electronic benefit theft had no way to recover stolen benefits, but thanks to new federal and state laws, they can now recover some or all of their stolen benefits simply by filing a claim with the HRA.” City Social Services the ministry said in a statement. “This is a significant victory for victims of electronic benefit theft, and we look forward to helping more New Yorkers regain the benefits they deserve.”
If you believe you have been a victim, please visit your ConnectEBT account immediately to report fraud. You can also call the EBT customer service hotline at 1-888-328-6399. People do not need to go to a SNAP or HRA office to get a replacement card. If people urgently need a new card, they can go to their local welfare access center and get a temporary “vault” card that is valid for 90 days.
Once you report fraud, we will issue you a replacement card within five to seven days with the funds still in your account.
In order to get a refund of your stolen funds, you A claim must be made.
People can also call Social Services OneNumber at 718-557-1399 or visit their local SNAP center to have a paper form mailed to them.People can mail a completed claim form to Department of Social Services, PO Box 02-9121, Brooklyn GPO, Brooklyn, NY 11202.
If your SNAP benefit funds were stolen between October 1, 2022, and August 21, 2023, and between January 1, 2022, and August 21, 2023, you have until October 31, 2023 to file a claim Claim. SNAP fraud that occurred before October 1, 2022 and Cash Assistance fraud that occurred before January 1, 2022 are not eligible for replacement funds.
If your SNAP or cash assistance funds were stolen after August 21, 2023, you have 30 days from the date you discovered the theft to file a claim. City officials say if you don’t know the exact date the theft occurred, leave the claim section blank. They say this will not cause your claim to be denied.
Once your refund is approved, the stolen funds will be deposited to your new EBT card.
People should receive a decision on their application up to 30 days after the council receives their application. Replacement funds will be deposited to their EBT card shortly.
City officials are warning people to be careful when using new EBT cards — and look for skimming devices — or their money could be stolen again.
“Always be vigilant,” said Augusto Escalante of the city’s HRA.
The skimming device can be discovered by pulling on the credit card terminal. If it’s loose, it could be a sign that a scammer has installed a skimming device.
People should also protect their hands when entering their PIN, as skimming machines may have cameras attached to them. City officials also recommend that people change their passwords frequently.
Eyewitness News asked the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which administers EBT cards, why it doesn’t use more secure chip technology to make the cards. The office said it is working with the USDA to find options to further enhance the security of EBT cards.
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