DENVER — For families receiving food assistance, every dollar counts. Over the last year, that sense of security has been threatened as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card scams rise across the country, including here in Colorado.
Those impacted have reached out to Contact Denver7 for help.
After class every night, Red Rocks Community College student Jamie O'Reilly has her hands full.
"I'm a full-time student, I am a single mom of two kids," she said.
So you can imagine the shock that came when O'Reilly's EBT card was declined at the grocery store. She then discovered her food benefit account had been drained.
"I get $900 worth of groceries stolen within a week of receiving my benefits," O'Reilly recalled. "What is my family supposed to do for the next 30 days?"
O'Reilly is the latest person to reach out to Contact Denver7 about a dramatic rise in stolen electronic food benefits. The state has received more than 100 reports of stolen Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds in the last year, with a total loss estimated at $177,000.
According to state officials, thieves are using skimming devices to clone EBT cards and drain accounts — often from other states — and the federal government is not replacing the funds.
While advocates are pushing for changes to federal policy on replacement funds and card protections, they say states must do more.
"The state of Colorado can and should do something in the meantime," said Lyz Riley Sanders with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
Still, Colorado officials say this change should happen at the federal level.
"Right now, I don't have a federal guidance that allows me to replace those benefits," said Karla Maraccini, the division director for Food and Energy Assistance with the Colorado Department of Human Services. "There are a very small number of states, as I understand it, who are replacing those benefits with state-only dollars. They have built not only the process and the functionality, but then they also have the budget in order to be able to support that. If Colorado were to be able to do that, we would require legislative action."
The state has taken action by banning EBT transfers to certain states where this theft is rampant.
O'Reilly recommends people receiving benefits change their PINs frequently, freeze their EBT cards between transactions and call if they notice even a small purchase they didn't make because thieves often make a test buy before they drain the account.
Editor's note: Denver7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at email@example.com or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Contact Denver7 stories here.