OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Food assistance programs are a lifeline for thousands of Oklahomans and millions around the country – but more and more often, these government benefits are being taken out of accounts before consumers know what happened.

It’s a crime on the rise, and the results can be crippling.

Katherine Henderson and her family of five rely on SNAP benefits. Earlier this month though, she received bad news at the grocery store.

“I got like a little receipt that was like, there’s only $20 in here,” she explained. “I was like, that’s not right. Because today was the day it was supposed to deposit.”

Roughly $1000 in government assistance dollars was stolen, taken out by someone in California.

Katherine says a call to DHS revealed a troubling trend, potentially at local big box chains.

“[Stores] had skimmers on their self-checkout, and people have been stealing SNAP numbers through the skimmers,” she added. “Apparently they took a lot of people all at once.”

Skimmers are a problem that’s widespread across the Metro, with Oklahoma City Police putting out a warning just a couple weeks back.

Those on SNAP though are particularly vulnerable, as the money stolen is non-refundable.

“They told us that they’re not going to reimburse for this situation,” Katherine said.

The problem plagues those on government assistance coast to coast. In our investigation, we found alerts for consumers out of Arizona, Wisconsin, Maryland, Washington D-C, California, Florida, and Illinois in just the last few months.

They all reported a rise in SNAP theft, with credit card skimmers likely to blame.

Oklahoma DHS responded with the following statement:

Like the rest of the country, Oklahoma consumers have seen an increase in card skimming. Because SNAP EBT cards function in much the same was as debit cards, OKDHS has found that some of our customers are also falling victim to these scams. Unfortunately, EBT cards and benefits are not insured by the federal government and lost or stolen benefits cannot be replaced.

Before swiping their SNAP cards, customers should ask store attendants to check that shopping terminals have not been tampered with. Customers can also change their PIN periodically by calling Conduent at 1-888-328-6551 or visiting www.connectebt.com/. If a SNAP customer believes their card has been compromised, they should contact Conduent immediately at the number or website above to cancel their current card and request a replacement.

Katherine’s family and many others must now find a way to make it the rest of the month.

“I’m sure we can get through this, like we could white knuckle and figure it out,” she said. “But there are definitely people who cannot and I don’t know what they’re doing right now.

As noted in the above statement, DHS advises consumers to:

  • Speak with store attendants prior to purchase, to check that terminals haven’t been tampered with
  • Change pin numbers periodically
  • Monitor your accounts, and make sure to immediately cancel your card if you suspect fraudulent activity