NEW YORK - Thieves are using hidden skimming devices to steal SNAP benefits from unsuspecting U.S. residents. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides food assistance to people with low incomes.
"We tried to purchase something, and it said that [the card] was used in a store in Rosendale, New York," said Virginia Mann of Chester, New York. She described what authorities say is part of the growing problem of thieves stealing SNAP benefits.
Officials said crooks attach devices to a point-of-sale machine to copy information from the victim's benefits cards. Thieves then use the copied information to make fake debit cards. Unfortunately, many victims do not find out they are victims until it's too late.
"When I went to go check the balance on the food stamp card, it had said that I only had $1.04 left when I was just notified after 12 o'clock at night that I had gotten my money," Mann said.
Legal Aid Society attorney Susan Welber said the number of cases being looked into is astonishing.
"The calls from people affected by it are flooding in now," Welber said. "Just recently, we learned that there had been about 2,200 cases through August, and we haven't received the data as of December yet."
The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, OTDA, said more than $730,000 in benefits was stolen through August.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP, prohibits replacing stolen benefits. A state statute also prevents replacing stolen public assistance money. However, that could soon change.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, has teamed with colleagues in Washington and Albany to announce legislation to help victims get compensation.
"I'm going to be working very hard to make sure we have more resources and to make sure we can stop SNAP skimming," Gillibrand said.