Over 1,600 Washington families targeted by fraudsters amid surge in SNAP benefit theft

LAKEWOOD, Wash. — The United States Department of Agriculture reports an alarming surge in SNAP benefit theft across the country. According to Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services, more than 1,600 Washington State EBT cardholders have been hit by fraudsters.

Feeling hopeless, Kristine Williams of Lacey contacted KIRO 7. Williams claims fraudsters drained her EBT card back in January. She lost more than $900. For Williams, a mother with three kids at home, that food stamp money is critical.

“It’s just really stressful because we don’t know where the next meal is coming from,” said Williams. “We have to dig into other resources to cover this, and it spirals from there. It’s just a domino effect.”

Williams says she visited two DSHS offices before learning what exactly happened to her account. She claims someone working at the DSHS location in Lakewood confirmed scammers were to blame. Williams says she was told her benefits would be refilled in about a week, but when she checked back two weeks later, she got a different response.

“They said, no, we’re not doing anything,” said Williams. “We don’t have the money to replace the benefits.”

Washington DSHS refused to answer any specific questions about their ongoing investigation.

In an email statement, a department spokesperson said the following:

“We continue to provide these fraud prevention tips to our clients to try and help prevent the fraud from happening in the first place. We’ve done this in a number of ways -- through our social media platforms, on our public website, through signage in our office lobbies, working with our community partners and advocates, through direct mailings to clients who receive their benefits on EBT cards, and through automated phone messages to clients who we believe have been victims of fraud.

So far, in 2023, we have seen 272 cardholders with unauthorized transactions totaling more than $160,000 in stolen food and cash benefits.

Until recently (January 2023), federal and state rules prohibited the replacement of stolen benefits for most programs, including SNAP/Basic Food benefits; however, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 did include a provision for replacing some benefits. Congress designated the U.S. Department of Agriculture as lead for implementing those new rules and procedures; we are working with USDA to ensure those are in place for Washingtonians affected by EBT card skimming/scamming.”