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Oregon to reimburse SNAP benefits lost to skimming fraud

Nearly a dozen states, including Oregon, have approval to begin refunding victims. EBT cards are more vulnerable to skimming due to a missing security feature.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Starting later this month, Oregon will begin replacing SNAP or food stamp benefits stolen due to skimming fraud. Until now, the state has declined to reimburse low-income families.

“There was nothing they could do,” said Wilsonville resident Ashlee Umberger. Her SNAP benefits were stolen last year, but she said the Oregon Department of Human Services wouldn’t give her a refund.

A KGW investigation documented how fraudsters have been wiping out food stamp benefits from low-income Oregonians, due in part to a missing security feature on EBT cards.

“Why would you take from the poorest of people?” asked Umberger.

Since the initial report in January, KGW has heard from nearly a dozen people who lost SNAP or food stamp benefits due to fraud.

“It made me sick,” said Nancy Kjenslee of Gresham. The 77-year-old lost roughly $2,000 in SNAP benefits last December.

In October, the USDA issued a nationwide warning about SNAP fraud in which thieves use “card skimming” to steal SNAP benefits.

Fraudsters are stealing the food stamp benefits by secretly installing devices on ATM readers that copy the card numbers and pin numbers and send them back to the thieves — who then create fake cards and drain accounts.

This so-called "skimming" can be devastating to households already struggling to make ends meet, especially because states like Oregon have declined to reimburse victims.

Late last year, Congress approved a spending bill that allows food stamp or SNAP recipients to be reimbursed for stolen benefits. More than a dozen states, including Oregon, now have approval to begin refunding victims.

Oregon will begin replacing SNAP benefits for victims of skimming fraud on May 22. The state will reimburse those losses going back to October 1, 2022. Benefits stolen before October 1, 2022, will not be replaced. People who had benefits stolen due to skimming should request replacement benefits immediately.

“We are glad to be able to replace benefits that were stolen due to EBT card skimming fraud and we encourage people to take steps to protect their benefits,” Claire Seguin, interim director of the Oregon DHS Self-Sufficiency Programs said in a press release.

Senator Ron Wyden argues more can be done. The Democrat from Oregon urged the USDA to upgrade SNAP benefit cards with smart chip technology, which make them more difficult for fraudsters to skim.

“We’ve got to go to the heart of the problem — which is prevention and we’ve got to get states in position where they are using 21st Century technology,” said Wyden.

Umberger believes food stamp recipients should have the same protections as everyone else using the banking system, including smart chips in the benefit cards, fraud detection and notification.

“Set it up so you get text messages when your card is being used, like most banks do. They’ll notify you if money is being withdrawn from your account,” explained Umberger.

How to protect your EBT card information:

  • Freeze your card immediately after each use and unfreeze it before making purchases. This can be done in the “Freeze Card” section under “Account Services” by visiting Cardholder.ebtEdge.com or using the ebtEdge mobile app.
  • Block purchases made outside of Oregon and online purchases. These blocks can be removed by you when necessary. This can be done in the “Protect My Account” section under “Account Services” by visiting Cardholder.ebtEdge.com or using the ebtEdge mobile app.
  • Keep your PIN secret. Do not share your PIN with anyone outside your household. Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN on a machine.
  • Check your EBT account regularly for unauthorized charges. If you notice any, cancel your card immediately.

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