HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaiʻi families counting on food stamps, also known as SNAP benefits, have been victimized by hackers who emptied their accounts. The state said more than 200 accounts have been compromised. All of them on Oahu.
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SNAP benefit recipients are provided with EBT cards which serve as debit cards to purchase food items. On Sunday, Nov. 5, the state said about 230 of them lost nearly all the money in their account.
“Everything was gone,” said Jessy Luther.
“How much did they take?” asked KHON2.
“$2,530-something,” he said.
“They took out $926 from my card and I was really shocked. I was, like, ‘how am I gonna provide for my family, put food on the table for the little ones?'” questioned Lauraina Salaivao.
Many of the families went to the processing centers and waited hours hoping at least to get some of the benefits back.
“We got kids at home, and we got no food at home. So, I had to come here and wait the whole day for it,” said Tausala Milo.
The Department of Human Services said it started on Friday, Nov. 3; and they believe that it’s happening in different parts of the country.
At this point though, DHS said it’s still not clear how the thieves were able to access the system.
“It could be a result of hacking, cloning, phishing or even skimming. So, we’re asking and urging individuals to protect themselves to the extent possible,” said Trista Speer, deputy director at DHS.
Speer is asking account holders to check their balance regularly. And if anything is missing, then go to one of the processing centers to have the benefits replaced. They should also change their passwords regularly and report the missing funds to HPD.
“We are working with law enforcement officials to actively investigate this as strenuously as possible because the Department of Human Services will not stand for any of our individuals here in Hawaiʻi, who are receiving benefits to be defrauded,” said Speer.
HPD said it’s investigating more than a dozen reports of fraud involving EBT cards that were reported.
On Sunday, Nov. 5, KHON2 News introduced the issue of compromised EBT cards.
Gina Mangieri learned that the Department of Human Services is investigating potentially compromised EBT cards.
This came after KHON2 heard from viewers concerned they’d been hacked or scammed.
DHS said that more information from federal partners that fund the program is expected to come soon.
DHS also said that an update along with more information is forthcoming regarding the extent of the issue.
BT is for electronic benefits transfer in which the United States government provides Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants with money to pay for food as part of SNAP benefits.
“When a participant shops at a SNAP authorized retail store, their SNAP EBT account is debited to reimburse the store for food that was purchased,” reads the site for USDA Food and Nutrition Services. “EBT is in use in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. EBT has been the sole method of SNAP issuance in all states since June of 2004.”
For the Hawaii Electronic Benefit Transfer (HI/EBT) system, the State processes financial assistance benefits that are provided by BESSD.
“Payments distributed through this system are for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Temporary Assistance for Other Needy Families (TAONF), General Assistance (GA), Aid to the Aged, Blind or Disabled (AABD), Repatriates, Childcare, Employment and Training (E & T), First-To-Work (FTW) and the SNAP programs,” explains Hawaii State Department of Human Services Benefit, Employment & Support Services page.
According to the site, in the fiscal year of 2014, SNAP helped put food on the table for an estimated 193,565 Hawaii residents which is equivalent to 98,440 families.