Jesse Jones

EBT Card skimming still a problem in Washington State

From rural Washington to the metro area, the skimming of EBT cards is still a huge issue in the state.

Sylvia Turner lost more than $1600 to a skimming operation around Thanksgiving. “I went to get something for the kids to eat and the card kept declining. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

“It’s just heartbreaking,” says Donald Paul, the EBT Administrator with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

He says since the agency began tracking skimming fraud in April 2022. 7,000 customers have reported losing $4.7M in benefits. They’ve also reviewed more than 6,000 claims and replaced $2.5M in food benefits.

“You know, it’s really unfortunate because our department spends a lot of time helping people with their benefits, trying to make sure they qualify, and to learn that their benefits are getting ripped off by these fraudsters,” says Paul.

This year the state started using a program that texts fraud warnings to customers. Paul says, “We have determined that the fraudsters are checking the card balances. And so, we can tell when they’re doing that.”

We wanted to understand why they can’t proactively lock the accounts, if they know whose accounts the scammers are checking.

But Washington DSHS says finance rules and their customer’s right to access benefits prevent that from happening.

Chip cards are more secure, but costly. A Federal bill was introduced by Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to require chips in EBT cards nationwide. California and Oklahoma are rolling out EBT Chip cards this summer. Washington will wait and see.

“When the market is ready. And, you know, when there is funding - we will move in that direction,” says Paul.

But there’s still more work to do. Connie Moore from Rochester lost more than $400 from scammers who skimmed her card near Olympia and spent her money at a Walgreens in California.

Connie said she provided DSHS with all the proof, but still hasn’t been reimbursed. You see, the feds are reimbursing food benefits through federal funds while cash benefits come through the state. And lawmakers in Washington state haven’t moved to refund those victims.