Stolen benefits: State says scammers have stolen $1.3 million in SNAP money from NC families

CHARLOTTE — Money that a college student relies on to eat was stolen but she says her EBT card never left her possession. She believes scammers planted a skimming device at a Huntersville store and were able to steal her money from hundreds of miles away.

She’s not alone. Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis uncovered that scammers have stolen nearly $500,000 in SNAP benefits in Mecklenburg County just this year.

“I’m a college student, so sometimes I need the money just to go grocery shopping because groceries have gotten high,” said Debreia Washington, who is studying to be a nurse.

Washington says earlier this month, her EBT card had $433 on it, but when she went to use it, the money wasn’t there.

“It was just a shocker. I thought for a few months I would have that money and I would be good,” she said.

Her last transaction was at a Walmart in Huntersville.

Records show that two days later, her card was used almost 3,000 miles away at a Target in Olympia, Washington.

More than $400 was gone.

Channel 9 learned this is happening to people across the country with a rise in thieves targeting EBT cards.

In North Carolina, state officials say it lost approximately $338,000 due to EBT card skimming last year.

So far this year, $1,342,000 has been reported stolen.

>> See a county-by-county breakdown of how much money has been lost to EBT scams here

The spike has prompted the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to issue a warning showing how to spot a skimmer.

Washington recently learned that she would not get her money back.

“The government doesn’t have anything in place to refund the money,” she told Curtis.

But that is changing soon.

In December, Congress passed a law for the federal government to reimburse stolen SNAP benefits..

Each state had to submit a plan for how to do it.

The USDA’s website shows it approved plans for North Carolina and South Carolina.

As of last week, South Carolina residents can apply to have stolen benefits replaced. Click here to apply.

North Carolina residents will have to wait until August.

To better protect your card, the state encourages people to:

- Download the EBT Edge app.

- Lock your card when you aren’t using it.

- Turn off online and out-of-state use.

Washington hopes these suggestions will help someone else.

“I didn’t know these ways to prevent it and if I would have, maybe that would have saved me from getting my money taken,” she said.

Channel 9 has reached out to Walmart to see if it found a skimming device at its location and whether it was reported to the police.

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