By Alejandro Alvarez
Maryland is offering reimbursements to thousands of residents who have recently fallen victim to Electronic Benefits Transfer fraud.
Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced Monday that his administration had approved compensation for nearly 1,300 fraud claims since last week, totaling around $762,000 in reimbursed benefits. The new process uses federal funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“My administration is using a direct and swift approach to reimburse people whose food and cash benefits were stolen,” Moore said in a statement. “We are demonstrating how our state will lead and find innovative ways to solve our common problems and restore faith in our family-serving institutions.”
The governor’s office and the Department of Human Services said the state is working on making the cards more secure, which is important to Lt. Joseph Bellino, who oversees the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit.
“Until some new technology is deployed, and they change the cards themselves, it’s likely that we’re going to continue to see this,” Bellino told WTOP.
According to a news release from Moore’s office, more than 2,300 Maryland adults and families were robbed of their benefits due to EBT card fraud between October 2022 and February 2023.
Bellino said that the people who are targeted are the “most vulnerable.” That includes family with children trying to use their cards for groceries, or elderly victims and their caregivers who try to get medical care items.
“We know that it’s caused a huge negative impact and left them stranded,” and without resources, he said.
Thieves often use card skimmers to covertly record a benefit card’s payment information, and then access the victim’s SNAP or cash assistance benefits.
Bellino explained that the information that is gleaned from the skimmers isn’t always used right away. “Once they harvest that information, many times they’re using it months later,” he said.
Residents whose benefits were stolen between Oct. 1, 2022 and Feb. 28, 2023 can apply for reimbursement through May 31 by filling out an online form. Victims of fraud after March 1 can file a claim up to 45 days after discovering the theft.
Bellino said it’s important for anyone who is affected by the skimmer thefts to notify police. The thieves, he said aren’t operating independently. “These are large criminal organizations,” he said.
More information on the reimbursement program can be found on the Maryland Department of Human Services website.
Maryland health officials are working with their tech partner Conduent to harden the state’s EBT card system against skimming, with security enhancements including fraud alerts and an online card locking feature.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.
As part of Maryland Matters’ content sharing agreement with WTOP, we feature this article from Alejandro Alvarez. Click here for the WTOP News website.