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Thieves are targeting EBT funds, more than 2,000 Kentuckians affected

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Reports of theft from EBT accounts is rapidly rising in Kentucky.

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, there have been more than 2,000 EBT theft claims submitted in the first quarter of 2024 alone.

That amounts to more than $1 million of stolen funds — four times the amount from the previous quarter.

Louisville grandmother Angel Lathan is one person affected.

She receives food stamps and KTAP funds from the government because she personally cares for her five grandchildren and has had numerous bouts with cancer.

“I’ve got a lot of mouths to feed,” Lathan said. “A lot of people that depend on me and say, you know, ‘What are we gonna do?’”

So, when Lathan opened her EBT account on July 1 and saw that most of her funds had been stolen, she was devastated.

“I just broke down crying,” Lathan said. “Then I called the food stamp office and started trying to figure out some things. We even called Wells Fargo Bank. They had no clue what was going on.”

Lathan says she still hasn’t gotten any answers to her questions, and some government employees have openly acknowledged that she may never get the $650 back that she lost.

As tragic as the story sounds, other Louisville families are in the same situation.

Louisville mother-of-three Cheyenne Fenwick is only 22 years old, and takes care of her three young kids on her own. Even in this situation, Fenwick found she was easy prey to hackers as well.

Almost $650 were taken from her account in the early morning hours of July 1 as well. She’s already running out of ways to keep her children fed.

“Honestly I’m not going to be able to much longer,” Fenwick said. “So, I created a GoFundMe to see if that could help a little bit.”

There are Kentucky laws that target this type of theft, but Tyler Offerman from the non-profit law firm The Kentucky Equal Justice Center says there hasn’t been a lot of action from lawmakers and law enforcement recently.

“With the advances in technology, the lack of response from policy makers and [the fact that] during the pandemic there were just a lot more benefits that were available to people; I think criminals saw this as an opportunity to start implementing some of these strategies,” Offerman said.

Experts say there are a few ways that you can prevent being targeted by thieves:

  • Don’t use easy-to-guess PINs on your EBT card.
  • Change the PIN on your card regularly, especially at the end of the month, as hackers typically target funds just after they are deposited to accounts at the beginning of the month.
  • If your food stamps or other EBT funds were stolen, report the incident as soon as possible to the Department of Community Based Services at 1-855-306-8959.

Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services tracks these theft claims and helps return missing funds to those who claim their benefits have been stolen. According to the USDA’s SNAP Benefits dashboard, the cabinet has returned more than $640,000 of the $1 million reported stolen since the beginning of 2024.

A prior release from the Cabinet back in October 2023 said they’d seen an uptick in reports since 2022.

The cabinet said fraudsters are placing illegal devices on an ATM or card-swiping machines to copy EBT card information which can then be used to make fake EBT cards. Scammers are using those fake cards to use the benefits.

Officials did not say if the recent uptick in thefts was due to the same issue, and the cabinet did not reply to any of WAVE’s requests for comment.

Lathan says the lack of accountability is frustrating, as she’s still not seen her stolen KTAP funds returned.

“I’m raising five grandchildren,” Lathan said “That $650 might not be a lot to others, but it’s most definitely a tremendous tragedy to me right now.”

Credit: Ward Jolles-WAVE3/Louisville & WKYT/Lexington