Dozens of Cuyahoga County SNAP recipients scammed out of their benefits
A new report predicts $320 million will be spent fraudulently in the next six months in Ohio.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -Two hundred thousand people in Cuyahoga County count on SNAP benefits to help make ends meet and put food on the table. But even the needy aren’t off limits to scammers who are now finding ways to steal those funds.
Kimbert and Kim Fleshman’s food assistance is essential to their survival. So last month when they were scammed out of their SNAP benefits, or supplemental nutrition assistance program funds, it was devastating.
“There was $414 one minute. We checked about an hour later, it was gone. Neither one of us had been to the market. I pulled the app up, but it didn’t show where it went,” said Kimbert Fleshman.
His wife was checking out at the grocery store when she discovered what had happened.
“It was embarrassing. I’m at the register putting back items. I have to make a big choice,” she said.
To date, they don’t who got their benefits, or how. And were only told by the county that fraud is suspected and is under investigation.
“They’re stealing from somebody who needs it,” said Kimbert.
Forty-one SNAP recipients in Cuyahoga County alone have been impacted by such scams, according to county data. Fifteen of those were in December, the week before Christmas. The losses range from $219 to $1300.
“The criminal groups now are attacking at scale. You’re going to see an exponential increase in individuals who have their cards stolen,” said Haywood Talcove, CEO of the Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions Government Group.
They’re a data and technology organization that recently put together a comprehensive SNAP fraud report using government data.
He says in Ohio 1.5 million, or one in 8 people are receiving SNAP benefits, spending $1.6 billion annually.
“Of that, I’m estimating approximately $320 million will be fraudulent over the next six months,” he said.
When the Fleshmans were hit, they had to make decisions about which bills to pay.
“Utilities won’t get paid and if they don’t get paid they get turned off. We’re facing eviction all over again,” Kim said.
Talcove says often funds are being stolen through a card reader with a skimmer because EBT cards aren’t chip-enabled.
“Then they create their own fake cards, and go off and sell them on the dark web for $100 or go to a retailer that stocks Red Bull or Monster and try to sell those on the internet or a local retailer,” said Talcove.
Scammers are also gaining access to SNAP benefits through phishing attacks.
“You get a call that purports to be from the USDA. It sounds incredibly official and you’re scared. So you enter in the number and you provide the pin. What you did was give your EBT card information to a criminal,” Talcove said.
Talcove says there are three things SNAP recipients can do now to protect their benefits:
1. Only use your EBT care at larger retailers. Their data indicates that’s where a lot of the skimming activity is taking place.
2. When you get your benefits every month, change your pin number.
3. If you get an email or text purporting to be from the USDA, ignore it.
“That call isn’t from Ohio. It’s not from the United States. It’s likely from Nigeria or Romania, or Russia and it’s a fraud scheme,” Talcove warned.
Since having learned the hard way that this can happen, the Fleshmans now say they’re going to keep closer tabs on when their SNAP benefits are going to be distributed and then spend them quickly to give thieves and hackers as little opportunity as possible to get to those funds.
“It just up and happened. Nobody can predict this is going to be the day that when I go in here, and I’m not going to be able to get what I normally get,” Kim Fleshman reflected.
You may not be able to predict when you’ll be targeted but you can help prevent it.
Public Assistance fraud is investigated at the county level by Cuyahoga County’s Investigations Department, which is a shared services department within the Health and Human Services structure. The local hotline to report fraud is 216-987-6950. You can find information on the department here:
Reporting Suspected Public Assistance Fraud (cuyahogacounty.us)
They do have the option to make a report at the state level, the state hotline is 1-866-FRAUD-OH. The state fraud site is here:
Report Fraud in Ohio | Office of Fiscal and Monitoring Services | Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
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