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Published on Monday, February 27, 2023
Phishing and skimming of SNAP and RI Works (RIW) benefits have been increasing nationally, regionally, and locally in Rhode Island. Since February 1, roughly 179 accounts, predominately SNAP and RIW, have been impacted by this fraudulent activity.
DHS is reaching out directly to those who have been affected to provide additional information and support and is providing reimbursements through distribution of new benefits to SNAP beneficiaries, while RI Works recipients will be made whole via RIW certified vendors. DHS is working with state agencies, law enforcement, and our national partners. An investigation is ongoing.
How many people have been impacted? Approximately 179 accounts have been affected since February 1, primarily SNAP and Rhode Island Works beneficiaries. The average loss of benefits is approximately $620. Scammers who have obtained account information might also wait until the beginning of the month, when funds are deposited, to access these accounts, so SNAP and RIW recipients should change their passwords prior to March 1.
What has happened? The cases have largely been targeted through skimming and phishing. Skimming is a process where a device that looks nearly identical to a credit card machine is attached to a store checkout payment machine. When the customer swipes their card, he/she is unknowingly swiping through the skimming device that provides the scammers with information that enables them to access the account. In addition, DHS is receiving increased reports of phishing. Phishing is the illegal practice of sending emails and/or texts that appear official/reputable to encourage people to divulge personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords and PINS, among other protected information.
Where is this happening specifically? Examples of benefit fraud is not uncommon from time-to-time. However, DHS has learned about a concerted effort and has detected incidents statewide. DHS advises all beneficiaries to increase your awareness and take recommended precautions to better protect your accounts, including updating your PIN and accessing accounts through the DHS website or phone number on EBT card, and not clicking links in emails.
What is DHS doing about this? DHS is working closely with the Department of Administration’s Office of Internal Audit, Fraud Detection, and Prevention Unit, who are also working with the USDA’s Office of Inspector General. DHS is currently connecting directly with customers who have been impacted – had benefits stolen or their EBT cards have been compromised (pin/account number obtained). DHS is also coordinating with its benefits vendors to implement enhanced security measures.
What can I do if I see that my benefits are missing or reduced? SNAP households that believe their benefits were stolen should file a fraud report as described below. Households should check their EBT balance regularly for any signs of theft.
How can affected individuals file a fraud report? DHS asks that anyone who has been affected to contact the DOA’s Office of Internal Audit, Fraud Detection and Prevention by calling (401) 574-8175 or logging on to omb.ri.gov/internal-audit/fraud-hotline to file a report.
Protecting your PIN and taking other precautions. If an individual was not affected by this fraudulent activity, a good safety measure is to change your PIN frequently and check your account balance frequently. Please do not share your PIN. Also, be aware that DHS will never ask for your PIN or EBT number. If you need assistance changing your PIN call ebtEdge at 1-888-979-9939. When you call, enter your card number at the prompt, listen to your balance, and after that message plays you will be directed to the main menu and receive a prompt for the pin change option. You can also log on to www.ebtedge.com or the ebtEdge mobile app.
Also, another effective safety practice is to examine ATMs and store payment terminals to determine if they look like they have been tampered with. Customers can examine payment terminals for overlay devices that can be attached to keypads, card readers, and credit card machines. SNAP and RIW customers should examine emails to identify any questionable emails before clicking on any links or providing personal information. DHS will never ask you for unsolicited personal or sensitive information via email or text message. Also, DHS is not cold-calling customers or issuing text messages regarding EBT usage. Messages received indicating such should be disregarded and deleted. Finally, customers can activate additional security measures on their cards by following the directions found here: https://dhs.ri.gov/programs-and-services/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/supplemental-nutrition-2.