FILE - SNAP Benefits

SNAP Benefits signs outside of a retailer

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is urging those who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Pandemic EBT benefits to take precautions against card skimmers.

Louisiana DCFS issued a notice on Tuesday urging SNAP and Pandemic EBT beneficiaries to monitor purchases and consider taking other steps to prevent theft as police investigate reported card skimmer activity in Sabine Parish.

“While the theft of benefits appears to be relatively isolated at this time, the joint investigation with law enforcement is ongoing,” the notice read. “Out of an abundance of caution, given that many people are doing holiday meal shopping this week, DCFS encourages EBT cardholders to take responsible steps to prevent fraudulent activity on their cards.”

Officials suggest cardholders reset and strengthen their personal identification number, and consider monitoring card activity using the LifeInCheck EBT mobile app. DCFS also suggests cardholders look over card terminals for potential skimming equipment and shield their PIN entry from view when making purchases.

Card skimmers are devices attached to card readers that collect card numbers thieves later use to make purchases. The FBI estimates the crime costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion each year.

The data analytics company FICO reports a year-over-year increase in “compromise events” of 759% through the first half of 2022, up from an increase of 548% in the first quarter.

“Federal food assistance benefits are not reimbursable if stolen, so it is important for cardholders to take all reasonable steps to secure their cards,” according to DCFS.

Officials suggest EBT cardholders not use PINs that can be easily guessed, such as birthdays, year of birth, last four digits of Social Security Numbers, the last four digits on the card, four consecutive digits, four identical digits, or numbers beginning with 0.

The LifeInCheck EBT mobile app allows cardholders to monitor for fraudulent activity through recent transactions and the available balance, and also provides a way to reset PINs.

The FBI also provides tips on how to detect skimmers, and what action to take if a card is compromised.

In Louisiana, EBT cards are not approved for Card Not Present transactions, with the exception of approved online retailers like Amazon Pantry and Walmart.

“In all other cases, the card must be physically swiped for purchases,” according to DCFS. “If the magstripe doesn’t work, the cashier may manually enter the card number, followed by the cardholder entering their PIN on the keypad.”

More information about the EBT cards and LifeInCheck EBT app is available on the DCFS website.