Millions of dollars in cash benefits are being stolen from New Yorkers every day.

According to local elected officials, food stamp fraud is costing New Yorkers millions of dollars in nutrition benefits.

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Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card fraud occurs when people use card readers that are capable of stealing their personal information and draining their accounts, said Zohran mamdani, a state assemblyman representing parts of Queens.

More than 61,000 EBT fraud claims have been filed in New York City in the past six months, according to a spokesman for the city’s Department of Social Services. The agency has recovered more than $19 million of that stolen money.

“It’s a crisis in our district,” Mamdani said.

According to Mamdani, New Yorkers filed over 22,000 EBT fraud claims from January 2022 to October 2023, resulting in a total of $17 million worth of stolen benefits. In the past six months, Mamdani says he has assisted more than 20 of his constituents in recovering over $15,000 worth of stolen benefits, and that there are many more residents who have not reported the fraud.

Thieves are using a “physical device” on the card reader to steal people’s credentials and cash. When someone swipes a card through the device, the device takes a copy of the card’s details and pin number, he said. González-Roos Queens, a state assembly member, has proposed legislation requiring that EBT cards be upgraded with “contactless” payment technology. The bill has not yet been voted on, but Mamdani says it could reduce fraud by more than 87%.

An EBT is an electronic card that works like a debit card and is used to pay for food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In order to qualify for SNAP benefits through New York state, a family must earn under $39,000 annually. A single person can earn up to $18,960 annually.

The New York Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on how EBT theft is committed. Last month, Shiva Pradhan was a victim of an EBT skimmer at her Woodside grocery store.

According to Pradhan, she checked her balance before she went to the store and saw her monthly payment of $291. After she filled her basket with groceries, such as bread, eggs, and potatoes, her card was rejected at the register. “I was so embarrassed,” Pradhan said, “I am not wealthy, I live on food stamps.

After the store clerk informed Pradhan that her EBT card had a balance of $0, she called the city’s Department of Social Services, but no one answered. She then asked a friend to loan her money while she waits for a new card to arrive.

Pradhan says one of the EBT customer service representatives told her her information had been used for a shopping transaction in the Bronx, a place she rarely goes.

According to Assemblymember Mamdani, who represents Astoria, many of his constituents have swiped their EBT cards from grocery stores only to find that there is no money left in the accounts. “This is the recipe for our constituents to go hungry,” Mamdani said.

Mamdani said his office has linked victims of eBT skimming to the city’s benefit replacement program, but the program will only reimburse up to two months’ worth of stolen funds, and it typically takes 30 days for victims to get their funds back.

The waiting period is so long that families will struggle to make ends meet, Mamdani added. “This is just another example of the state’s long history of trying to ride roughshod over the working-class people of New York,” he said.

In order to receive a refund for stolen EBT money, residents must file a claim online with the New York State Department of Social Services or give the department a call at (718)557-1399.

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