It probably isn’t a question you’ve put much thought to, but tell me: who do you think feels the greatest impact from card skimming schemes, where a payment card’s data is captured so a cybercriminal can make use of the card’s associated account? While it isn’t a good situation for anyone, some are impacted more than others.
Unfortunately, card skimming is even worse for those who rely on prepaid cards provided by the state for food assistance. Let’s consider why this is.
Skimming Losses are Worse for Those Receiving Assistance
Authorities across the country have taken note of increased losses associated with those receiving assistance through the Electronic Benefits Transfer (better known as EBT), which permits participants with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to pay for their food purchases.
When a SNAP card is used, the associated EBT account is debited so the store is reimbursed for the purchase. In this way, the EBT card is effectively a debit card—they even have an associated PIN and can be used to withdraw money from an ATM.
However, EBT cards largely lack the protections that most other payment cards have, like the more secure smart chip technology that makes these cards harder to duplicate, or the fraud protections that other payment cards have. If SNAP funds are fraudulently stolen and spent, the rightful recipient has little recourse to take. They’re effectively out that money…money that they need as a member of the program.
It isn’t exactly news that criminals and scammers have found ways to steal card data, either…and they’re getting better at doing it surreptitiously. The devices used to “skim” data off of payment cards (cleverly referred to as “skimmers”) can now be hidden inside cash machines, or camouflaged to look like just another part of the device. This makes it more challenging to spot these skimmers, putting more people at risk in general of having their data cloned and used to create additional copies of payment cards that the thief can use or sell.
What Can Be Done?
Well, short of more states implementing improved security measures into their EBT cards—eliminating the magnetic strip and replacing it with the modern chips that other card types use—it really falls to the user and the business where an ATM or other card-reading device is located to prevent these issues. Keep an eye out for people trying to tamper with these machines, and discontinue its use if you can until it has been fully checked by a professional for card skimming devices. As a customer, give any card reader a close look before you swipe to see if it looks at all unusual.
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