MA Residents Beware: Public Benefit Thieves Are On The Prowl!
During these trying times, a majority of Bay State residents are relying on public benefits as they try to make ends meet to feed their families. Massachusetts is facing a “substantial increase” in people being robbed of their EBT and SNAP cards without even being aware the problem has been rampant statewide as public benefits are pilfered by fraudsters and scammers. This is a severe red flag that needs to be addressed immediately at the State House in Boston.
Acting Commissioner Mary Sheehan recently asked lawmakers to support a proposal in Governor Maura Healey’s budget which will allow the Department of Transitional Assistance to offer those recipients a new way to protect their accounts as criminal have deployed skimming devices on ATMs and point-of-sale card readers to steal EBT card numbers and PIN numbers, or they had the audacity to scam benefit recipients of their personal information through phishing campaigns, which result in these unnecessary thefts. The problem has also particularly affected the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as Sheehan said that over $1.5 million in SNAP benefits have been reported stolen from Bay State recipients..
In Boston, lawmakers attended a recent Joint Committee on Ways and Means budget hearing as they reiterated this problem is common in Massachusetts, and they hear about it from their constituents who try to use these all-important benefits only to find out they have been robbed or scammed. Senator Liz Miranda provided disturbing details of a working single mother in her district who lost $2,000 in Social Security and SNAP benefits because a machine she used at a bodega had a skimmer which gathered her personal information. In one word: "Reprehensible".
Sheehan also confirmed The DTA has been working with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to address this constant problem:
“While DTA has implemented multiple strategies to protect client benefits, the bottom line is that we need additional resources to successfully slow down or stop these thefts.”
Governor Healey’s 2024 fiscal year budget proposal also includes $310,000 for DTA to purchase a new functionality from the Bay State’s EBT vendor that will allow clients to remotely lock and unlock their EBT cards through a mobile app. Sheehan added this important step MUST be taken to provide safer transactions:
“Changing your PIN, which is what we’ve been messaging our clients, it works right away. However, if that client goes to another location or the same location and the information is stolen again, they’re going to have their benefits stolen again. So what the locking and unlocking will allow them to do is only unlock their account at the point that they want to transact the benefit and use them. They’ll be able to access the benefit and then immediately lock it down. That ability will definitely be hugely effective for our clients.”
Sheehan said they are also implementing an analytics tool that is meant to identify clusters of rapid transactions happening out of state, which is a clear indication that somebody has cloned a whole bunch of cards. In many cases, DTA has the ability to verify that a fraudulent transaction occurred because it happened in another state on the same day that a client is making legitimate purchases at various shops throughout Massachusetts.
Massachusetts was recently named by The Federal Food and Nutrition Service as one of five states that participates in a federal mobile EBT pilot program that gives recipients the ability to use their benefits by tapping or scanning their mobile device instead of using their physical EBT card which has proven to be a safeguard against thefts. DTA can reimburse the client once they confirmed fraud has taken place. But the situation is slightly different for stolen SNAP benefits:
The federal spending bill that Congress passed in December allows states to reinstate skimmed SNAP benefits using federal funds, but only those stolen between October 1st 2022 and September 30th, 2024 as reports indicate over $1.5 million stolen prior to the date aforementioned. Keep in mind, the federal policy also limits reimbursement to two months worth of benefits. The House and Senate both agreed in a supplemental budget bill, but this measure has not yet been sent to a conference committee which provides a total of $2 million for the reimbursement of SNAP benefits for those who have been skimmed between April 1st and September 30th 2022.
The House has aligned with the governor’s proposal, which is parallel to the federal reimbursement policy and the Senate bill also includes “wraparound” language where it tries to get to the full stolen benefit amount. Sheehan also added there is a light at the tunnel regarding this matter:
“We’ll implement whichever bill comes out, or whatever compromise happens through that conference committee, and we’ll try to get those benefits out as soon as possible. We are already working on the requirements for the systems changes. It will take some time because of the uncertainty on this bill as to what programming we need to do. We will do everything we can to get those benefits out as soon as possible.”
(Some information obtained in this article and featured photo image courtesy of www.newbedfordguide.com)
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