(WSPA) – Nearly half a million taxpayer dollars. That’s how much the South Carolina Department of Social Services said was recently stolen from people in the Palmetto State who get assistance paying for food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The fraud stems from a few different scams with one purpose, to drain clients’ Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, not just in South Carolina, but throughout the country.
In this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive, how victims can get help, and how to stop more benefits from being stolen.
When you’re cooking for a family of six, like the Woods, the cost of groceries can really eat into your budget, especially for a disabled veteran like John Wood in Anderson County.
So in mid-December, when Woods discovered the EBT card his family uses to pay for food was declined, they were shocked.
“There was like $585 and some change. They took every bit of it, even the change. I was like, ‘Wow, we going to be hurting for Christmas for our kids because we didn’t even have a turkey, ham, nothing,'” said Wood.
HOW THE SNAP SCAMS WORK
The money stolen was taxpayer dollars from the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, administered by each state’s Department of Social Services.
Sean Fay, the Inspector General for South Carolina’s DSS said one way he was alerted to the wide scope of the scam was a text he received, even though he’s not a SNAP recipient.
The phishing (or smishing) campaign warned that your South Carolina EBT card had been “locked.” All you had to do was call or click.
“They always had this sense of urgency and that’s usually one way you could tell it’s possibly a scam because they use that to trick you to quickly go there because if you don’t confirm your credit card or EBT card, you might lose your benefits,” said Fay.
The agency is quick to point out, some of the losses also stem from skimming, where card information is stolen by fraudulent card readers at the point of checkout.
Woods said he suspects his number was stolen from a vendor.
“The only thing I can think it was the guys on the side of the road in a tent that were giving away the free EBT tablets and free EBT phones, they took a picture of the EBT card and her driver’s license and got our information… because they were from NY,” said Wood.
Jamaica NY, it turns out, was where records showed his card was drained.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
DSS said it clients should be aware, the agency does not currently text or email snap recipients unless you reach out first.
DSS will also never ask for your card or PIN.
If you have any questions about your EBT amount, the agency said you can go safely to its online portal here or text DSS to 211211 to check benefits.
Speaking of PINs, Wood said his was too easy and he suspected the scammers guessed it. He urged all EBT card holders to create more complex PINs.
WHERE THE INVESTIGATION STANDS
DSS has been able to give state and federal investigators information like where the cards were last successfully used, and where they were last fraudulently.
The agency said those illegal transactions were almost always out of state.
DSS told 7NEWS, to date, the agency is aware of more than 900 cases of stolen benefits from October through December of last year in South Carolina. The stolen benefits totaled more than $450,000 in Federal taxpayer dollars.
HOW VICTIMS CAN GET HELP
But scams didn’t just hit South Carolina. The fraud hit victims in so many states, prevention methods were included in the Title IV (4) Nutrition section of the recently passed Federal Omnibus Bill.
That legislation also included a mandate to replace those benefits so victims can potentially recoup funds they lost.
To do this, DSS said it’s important to file a report with the FBI by clicking here.
“There is going to be a way in the future and potentially those who have lost benefits from October on to potentially recoup funds that were lost,” Fay explained. “And once we learn what those details are and the information we need to move forward we will be sure to push that out so our clients who did experience this fraud can recoup some of the money that was lost.”
“That would be awesome, that would really be awesome,” said Wood when he heard the news.
“It would help out a lot, because my kids love to eat,” he said with a laugh.