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Scam targeting SNAP in Pennsylvania, New Jersey could be part of transnational crime ring, Secret Service says

U.S. Secret Service investigating SNAP scam affecting Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware families
U.S. Secret Service investigating SNAP scam affecting Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware families 02:04

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The scam targeting low-income families' SNAP benefits is being investigated by at least one federal agency as a part of larger, transnational organized crime.

For the last 18-24 months, the U.S. Secret Service said it has seen a rise in point of sale and ATM skimming. The agency believes EBT cards used for SNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps — are easy targets because they don't have additional security features, such as a chip. The agency believes many of the scammers involved with EBT fraud come from Eastern Europe.

"The U.S. Secret Service works closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate cases of ATM skimming in Philadelphia and the South Jersey area," said Special Agent in Charge Mike Centrella, of the Secret Service Philadelphia office, in a statement.

"We encourage consumers to inspect ATMs, gas pumps, point-of-sale and other card readers before using them. Check for anything loose, crooked, damaged, or scratched and if something looks unusual, don't use it. Taking these simple precautions can help protect consumers from becoming a victim," Centrella said.

Families in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York have told CBS News Philadelphia that the funds on their EBT cards have been nearly drained, often at stores in states or cities they have never visited. Many rely on the benefits to feed their children. 

The developing situation has also caught the attention of Philadelphia Councilmember Cindy Bass. 

"It was something that was recently brought to our attention, but it seems as if when I heard about it from Community Legal Services, which was working on these cases. Once we heard about it, it almost became as if we were hearing about it over and over and over again," Bass said.

After city council's last session before summer break on Thursday, Bass introduced a resolution calling for an investigation into the matter. Bass, a member of the public health and human services committee, is also calling for more oversight. 

"We want to have some hearings, we want to be transparent, we want to bring folks together and have these conversations, as I said, on a city, state and federal level, and we want some action," Bass said.

READ MORE: What should I do if I'm a victim of stolen SNAP benefits?

In response to the resolution, a Pennsylvania Department of Human Services spokesperson wrote in an email: "DHS takes fraud prevention seriously and works diligently to ensure the benefits DHS administers get to the Pennsylvanians who need them. DHS has an established process of reporting instances of fraud to the Office of State Inspector General (OSIG) for investigation and any additional action, and to the US Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which oversees SNAP and SNAP retailers nationwide."

Pennsylvania DHS understands the concerns and is working with its EBT contractor and FNS on ways to improve security, the spokesperson said. So far in 2024, the agency has received more than 4,900 stolen benefit claims. From the first of the year through last Friday, more than $1 million in SNAP benefits have been restored through the agency, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson with Delaware Health and Social Services said since the start of 2024, it has received more than 200 replacement requests with 168 verified as fraud, restoring $104,601.74 in stolen benefits.

In a statement, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services said it is monitoring the issue and working with federal agencies to process requests and reach out to those affected. 

If you believe you are a victim, officials ask you report the fraud. We have more information about that here.

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