SNAP fraud is on the rise across Michigan & the US. What's being done to stop it?

Posted at 5:42 AM, Jun 06, 2024

BERKLEY, Mich. (WXYZ) — SNAP fraud is a growing problem in Michigan and across the country. Bad actors, mainly from out of state, are stealing EBT card information and draining the accounts of people who rely on SNAP benefits to feed their families.

To learn more about this, I sat down with a single mom who was a victim of this fraud, a local police detective, and a representative of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. I also found out three steps to protect your EBT card.

"How much did they clean out of your account?" I asked Jennifer McClure, who fell victim to the fraud.

"About $835," she said.

McClure, a single mom from Berkley, is one of about 1.3 million Michiganders who are receiving food assistance or SNAP benefits, which are distributed through electronic benefit transfer cards or EBT cards.

Back in March, she was shocked when her card was denied at a store due to insufficient funds.

"I noticed weird transactions. One was Bargain Barn. Never heard of a Bargain Barn. So, that's when I started looking, and I saw transactions out of Knoxville, Tennessee," she said.

She reported the crime to police in Knoxville, but found out they wouldn't investigate the case unless she physically showed up in Tennessee. She filed a report in Berkley, but detectives say their hands are tied because the crime happened in another state.

"Is this an isolated case?" I asked Berkley Det. Lt. Andrew Hadfield.

"We see about 200-to-300 cases of identity theft per year. But in regards to EBT, that is brand new," he said.

I reached out to MDHHS, which administers the federal SNAP program, and found out more than 97% of EBT cloning fraud cases are from out-of-state transactions.

The department told me the value of replaced benefits from last October to the end of May of this year is already $166,493. That's almost as much as the value of replaced benefits for all of fiscal year 2023, which came to $181,778.
"What concerns you the most?" I asked Dwayne Haywood, the Senior Director of the Economic Stability Administration for MDHHS.

"What concerns me is the fact that, you know, our technology, of course, is outdated. And that's one of the reasons why. And you probably heard that we still use the magnetic strips — which you can easily kind of pull the information off the magnetic strips," he said.

Haywood said MDHHS received a nearly $750,000 federal grant last fall to improve SNAP recipient fraud prevention, detection, and investigation efforts.

"What is the main message you want EBT card holders to take away from this?" I asked.

"Prevention," he said.

Haywood recommends downloading the EBT Edge mobile app for Apple or Android in order to:

  1. Block out-of-state purchases
  2. Block internet purchases
  3. Freeze EBT purchases until unfrozen

"I didn't know about the out-of-state, to block from out-of-state transactions. If I would have known that, it would have never happened in the first place," McClure said.

She's grateful she got reimbursed and is now planning to take all the steps to secure her card, including changing her pin frequently.

This isn't just a problem in Michigan. A proposed overhaul of how stolen SNAP benefits are being dealt with in New York was just announced last week after 61,000 New Yorkers filed claims in the last nine months.

If you've been a victim, make sure to report it immediately and make sure your card gets canceled.

Remember, the EBT vendor for MDHHS will never send emails or text messages regarding "locked" cards or ask for your PIN.

If you're concerned about an email, text, or a phone call about your EBT card, please call EBT customer service at 888-678-8914.