Watch CBS News

Pennsylvania advocates and lawmakers push for EBT cards with chip technology to prevent stolen SNAP benefits

What is EBT skimming and how is it targeting low-income people in Philadelphia and nationwide?
What is EBT skimming and how is it targeting low-income people in Philadelphia and nationwide? 03:47

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- More than two million Pennsylvanians receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, including nearly 500,000 people in Philadelphia, according to the PA Department of Human Services. Since last week, CBS News Philadelphia has been reporting on widespread issues, robbing people of money they need to feed their families.

CBS News Philadelphia Investigations uncovered this ongoing breach happening across the Philadelphia region and the nation could have been prevented by making a common upgrade to the debit card itself.

SNAP benefit recipients use debit cards with a magnetic strip and PIN rather than the more secure chip cards. Advocates and some lawmakers say this is giving criminals easy access to money intended for low-income families who need help paying for food.

Philadelphia area victims come forward in scheme targeting low-income families' SNAP benefits 02:07

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, or DHS, said skimming devices are to blame, a device criminals attach to machines where a debit card is swiped that can steal the card's data and PIN, giving scammers access to use the funds.

Louise Hayes, a SNAP policy expert with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, hears about this SNAP scam often.

"We're seeing a widespread problem in Philadelphia and nationwide of low-income people losing all of their food money to thieves. It's called EBT skimming, and it's happening because the cards used for distributing food stamps or SNAP are not secure in the way that many of our credit cards and debit cards are," Hayes said.

Hayes said chip technology could make electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards more secure but making the upgrade is taking a long time.

"I think part of it is money. It will cost a lot of money. Chip cards cost more money than the cards that they've been using," Hayes said.

DHS says they added additional security measures last year by not allowing common PINs.

Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman co-sponsored a bipartisan bill in March that would require all EBT cards to have chip technology to prevent theft.

A DHS spokesperson said it's received more than 2,400 requests to replace stolen benefits since the start of the year and DHS has restored about 1,600 of those claims.

Hayes says it takes too long for the state to replace the benefits once people report them stolen. 

"The state doesn't have enough staff and they've given themselves 40 days to replace stolen benefits and that just is too long for people who have lost all their food money through no fault of their own," Hayes said.

In a news release last week, DHS offered the following:

"SNAP recipients who have had their benefits electronically stolen should fill out a Benefit Theft Claim via a PDF form or web form within 60 calendar days of the incident. DHS will then validate within 30 calendar days of the request being submitted for evaluation, and if a replacement is to be issued, it can be done within 10 calendar days of the evaluation.

If this stolen SNAP theft impacts you, we have resources and steps you can take to find food for your family and recover the stolen money. First, if you need food right now, DHS says you can call 211 or visit to connect with local food resources. You can also visit to find local food banks and other food assistance programs.

To get the stolen money back in your account, you must file a claim. You can do this through the myCompass PA Mobile App or contact your local county assistance office. If you have questions about this, you can call the DHS Customer Service Center at 877-395-8930.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service oversees states' SNAP benefit programs. A USDA spokesperson sent the following statement:

"USDA supports modernization of SNAP cards to protect benefits for participants. There is no prohibition on adoption of chip cards and States may choose to do so at any time. In fact, two States, California, and Oklahoma, are already working towards chip card implementation with USDA support.

USDA will gladly work with any state seeking to adopt more secure payment technologies and encourages all SNAP authorized retailers to upgrade equipment to accept SNAP chip cards as soon as possible.  A successful transition to chip cards in SNAP requires retailer partnerships and engagement, as well as extensive recipient outreach and education efforts.  Retailer support is critical to preserving program access so that participants continue to have a multitude of locations at which to redeem their benefits to purchase healthy food.

Those who commit fraudulent acts related to SNAP are committing a serious crime that takes advantage of low-income families. USDA is committed to ensuring those responsible for such acts are held accountable. We do not tolerate fraud in nutrition assistance programs. We work closely with state and federal partners, law enforcement, SNAP retailers, EBT processors, and other industry experts to protect SNAP benefits and combat SNAP fraud, including skimming.

In late December 2022, Congress passed a law to protect and replace SNAP benefits stolen via card skimming, card cloning, and other similar methods. The law requires states to replace benefits that were stolen via these methods between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2024. Replacement benefits cannot exceed the actual amount stolen or the benefit allotment amount for the 2-months immediately preceding the theft, whichever is lesser. USDA is working with states to replace these stolen SNAP benefits and take additional to protect SNAP benefits."

DHS said it is working with its EBT contractor, Conduent, and the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service to evaluate enhanced EBT security. DHS projected it would cost $5 million to upgrade existing cards to chip-enabled EBT cards and an additional $7 million per year to issue replacement cards for SNAP recipients.

According to the USDA's Replacement of Stolen Benefits dashboard, since Q2 2023, the USDA has spent more than $61 million to replace stolen SNAP benefits from over 127,000 claims. In Pennsylvania, there were more than 2,100 claims and over $972,000 replaced during that period. More than $1.6 million was spent replacing 3,220 claims of stolen SNAP benefits in New Jersey and Delaware, the USDA spent roughly $4,000 replacing 10 approved claims of stolen benefits.

The data provided on the dashboard doesn't specify skimming specifically, so we don't know how many of these stolen benefit claims are skimming-related.

Debit cards without chips pose a security risk for SNAP recipients, Pennsylvania advocates say 03:06

Jazmine "Jazzy" Campos is one of more than a dozen people living in the Delaware Valley who has reached out to CBS News Philadelphia since first reporting about stolen SNAP benefits last Friday.

"They left me $.95," Campos said. "I can't even buy a meal. They leave me nothing!"

Campos showed CBS News Philadelphia the transactions made using her EBT card. She said not only has she never shopped at these stores in Philadelphia, but she added she has never heard of them.

The day after the transactions were made three weeks ago, Campos said she filed a complaint with the Delaware County Assistance Office and then got a new EBT card.

Delaware County woman turns to her vegetable garden as she waits for funds to be stored on EBT card 03:28

Campos said she was desperate to make sure her three kids could eat.

"I fasted for the first three days and said, 'OK, you know what? Let me worry about the kids eating,'" Campos said. "A part of me, deep down, was how long can I go?"

She has since leaned on her family for help and turned to her backyard garden full of tomatoes, herbs and peppers to help supplement meals.

"Here we are June, still no replacements," Campos said.

She said her mother was a victim of the scam earlier in the year. Both, Campos said, were told it could take 30 to 45 days to get benefits restored.

"I've been blessed to have a supportive family but I had to speak up for those who don't have it," Campos said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.