Turn to Tara: Scammers are stealing billions of dollars of food stamp money from needy victims
Food stamp fraud is a growing problem across the area and some experts say it could become a billion-dollar issue within months.
Senior Investigative Reporter Tara Rosenblum has what you need to know so you don't become a victim.
MORE: 'This is a silent giant.' Security experts warns of skyrocketing number of 'food stamp fraud' incidents
"I'm trying to make sure everyone knows if we do nothing. July 4 is going to be a very sad day for those receiving EBT benefits, because there's going to be no more money left in the system because of these criminal groups," says Haywood Talcove, CEO, LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
That was the alarming prediction made by a top consumer expert in News 12's investigation last month into the growing problem of food stamp fraud across the tri-state.
Since the story aired, many News 12 viewers reached out to share nightmare stories of their own.
One single mom from the Bronx says she was shocked when she went online and discovered where her SNAP benefits were spent.
They were used in California and in Mexico.
It's a story we heard over and over. "There were at least six or seven charges from Chicago, Illinois," said one viewer. "The money was spent in Florida at a Costco," said another.
One woman, who asked not to be identified but was willing to share her story, says she is hoping to create awareness. She says she unable to work because she's been waiting for a double lung transplant, so she relies on her benefits to put food on the table. But she discovered those benefits were stolen from her when she tried to purchase groceries for her Thanksgiving meal last year.
"The card had no money on it all and, you know, it took a toll emotionally, mentally. It's kind of frustrating when you know that's what you used to provide your kids to eat, and they don't even care."
The Turn to Tara team confirmed the fraud is happening across the tri-state. In every situation that was shared, each story had the same outcome. "The investigator called. They told me that I have to take a loss on everything." "I was there for six hours, only to be told I can apply for emergency stamps which I'm still waiting for."
The Turn to Tara team reached out to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, who issues snap benefits, and they said they are working with the USDA to 'further enhance the security of EBT cards' which currently have magnetic stripes, not chips, which make them vulnerable to skimming devices.
Tara also learned federal legislation will soon require every state to replace up to two months' worth of stolen benefits. But only fraud that occurred after Oct. 1 of last year will be eligible and the plan still needs approval from the USDA.
Just this week, the USDA approved New York State's plan to reimburse SNAP recipients who had their benefits stolen. New York can now process claims of stolen benefits and reimburse households using federal funds.
If you find out your card has been stolen, file a police report along with a complaint with the FTC - letting them know your identity has been stolen.
Here are some other ways to avoid getting scammed:
Be sure to keep close track of your benefits online
Change your cards' pin frequently
When you're on the checkout line, look out for evidence of tampering, such as loose keypads or card readers.
Be suspicious if you get a call or email asking for your card number or pin.
Don't do it. That call, that email, it's not from New York. It's not from Connecticut. It's not from New Jersey. It's likely from Russia, China, Nigeria or Romania.
If you have a problem, you want Tara to look into, click here.