How Card Skimming Disproportionally Affects Those Most In Need

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When people banking in the United States lose money because their payment card got skimmed at an ATM, gas pump or grocery store checkout terminal, they may face hassles or delays in recovering any lost funds, but they are almost always made whole by their financial institution. Yet, one class of Americans — those receiving food assistance benefits via state-issued prepaid debit cards — are particularly exposed to losses from skimming scams, and usually have little recourse to do anything about it. California's EBT card does not currently include a chip. That silver square is a hologram. Over the past several months, authorities in multiple U.S. states have reported rapid increases in skimming losses tied to people who receive assistance via Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), which allows a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participant to pay for food using SNAP benefits. When a participant uses a SNAP payment card at an authorized retail store, their SNAP EBT account is debited to reimburse the store for food that was purchased. EBT is used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. EBT cards work just like regular debit cards, in that they can be used along with a personal identification number (PIN) to pay for goods at participating stores, and to withdraw cash from an ATM. However, EBT cards differ from debit cards issued to most Americans in two important ways. First, most states do not equip EBT cards with…

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