DENVER — Penny Privitera is a mother of three, responsible for feeding a family of five. She found herself in a tough situation after the money on her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits card ran out, but she didn’t make any purchases.
She said someone else used her Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.
“There was a little over $700 in benefits and within five minutes, completely gone,” Privitera said. “I’m just glad for good neighbors. Otherwise, we would’ve probably been starving the last few days.”
On Dec. 1 at midnight, $707 was deposited into Privitera’s SNAP benefits account. At 3:48 a.m., the money was gone. Privitera said seven transactions were made at three different stores in New York and Kentucky.
Privitera doesn’t know exactly how her EBT card information was stolen, but she thinks her card was skimmed.
Dr. Steve Beaty, a professor of computer science at MSU Denver who specializes in cybersecurity, said skimming scams are not uncommon.
“Essentially what happens is there is a piece of hardware that goes on top of the usual mag card reader,” he said.
That hardware is called a card skimmer, and it’s usually hiding in plain sight.
“Your card is read twice — once by the skimmer and once by the actual mag card reader at an ATM, gas station, any of these sorts of places,” Beaty said. “[Scammers] don’t have to interact with the device other than being close enough to have a Bluetooth connection.”
Beaty said scammers use that Bluetooth connection to download the card information collected by the skimmer, and then sell those credentials on the dark web. He said skimmers are used to clone EBT cards, credit cards and debit cards.
“There are sites specifically dedicated to what we call ‘carding,’” Beaty said. “Carding is, ‘I have this number of credit cards or debit cards available, and you will pay me this amount of money and I will guarantee that this number of credit cards have this kind of balance on them.’ We’re talking about Internet time, which is seconds at the very least to make charges against a particular card. So, it doesn’t take very long at all to commit fraud.”
Denver Human Services is looking into Privitera’s case. In an email Privitera shared with 9NEWS, the agency said, “Because of the sudden surge of fraud in the last few months, it can take the state up to 6 weeks to investigate. If approved, it can take another couple weeks for our escalation to reach out and reinstate the benefits.”
That means it could be February before Privitera recovers any of that lost money.
Any cardholder who suspects they fell victim to fraud or electronic theft should contact their local human services office for more information. To request replacement of stolen benefits, they must fill out the EBT stolen-benefits form (also available in Spanish) and return it to their local county human services office.
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