Consumer Alert: NY confirms it’s moving to chip-enabled EBT cards

We’ve been reporting the rise in the theft of SNAP benefits in Monroe County. The county has seen more than 350 cases in just the month of June. This is happening because EBT cards, which look like credit cards, are especially vulnerable to skimming.

Think about the last time you used a cassette tape. Right now, the government doles out billions of bucks on cards using the same technology invented during the same period the cassette tape gained popularity — the 60’s. EBT cards use only a magnetic stripe, making it easy for thieves to use skimming devices and steal data from the cards.

But late Thursday afternoon, the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the office that administers the food assistance program, sent a statement that reads,

“OTDA is in the early stages of moving to chip technology for New York EBT cardholders. This includes working with our existing vendors to determine the potential costs, and the most efficient and effective way to move forward to protect New Yorkers from having their benefits stolen electronically. OTDA takes seriously any report of benefit theft and continues to work in close collaboration with local, state, and federal authorities to provide any information they require that will help bring perpetrators to justice. All EBT cardholders, however, should remain vigilant about these scams and take several basic precautions to protect themselves, including carefully inspecting point-of-sale devices, changing their PIN regularly, reviewing transaction history frequently, and freezing their card immediately after use.”

I asked an OTDA spokesperson whether that means the department can move forward with moving to chip technology without legislative action. I had not received an answer at the time of writing this story Thursday evening.

In the meantime, New York State Senator Jose M. Serrano has proposed legislation that would mandate the use of chip technology, which is far more secure than a magnetic stripe because the chips use encryption to protect your account information.

Senator Jose M. Serrano: “So my legislation, S27823A, is a bill that would require the use of chip technology similar to the technology that we see on debit cards and credit cards.”

Serrano represents District 29, which encompasses the South Bronx and East Harlem. He proposed the bill last year, and it has passed the Senate.

Deanna Dewberry: “Transferring all of that to chip technology sounds expensive. How would we pay for it?

Serrano: “Well, it’s hard to quantify how much it would cost in the state of New York.”

But we can estimate by looking at the costs in California, one of only two states due to transfer its EBT cards to chip technology this summer. California allocated $50 million to make the switch, which is a fraction it has lost to skimming, an estimated $10 million a month.

Between August 2023 through March of this year, $28.4 million in replacement benefits have been issued. The amount stolen is likely higher because there are likely skimming victims who did not apply for replacement benefits.

Serrano: “Over time this will save money in ensuring that people are not losing their benefits and won’t have to apply to get their benefits back that they lost.”

Dewberry: “There have been a number of congressmen and women who have proposed chip technology. Why not let the federal government take the lead on this and bear the expense rather than having New York do it.?”

Serrano: “We in the state, as elected officials, look for ways to find solutions but also to augment the work that the federal government could be doing. But I do think it’s important that we take the lead in the state, and we show a good aggressive model.”

This is without question. It will take years for New York to move to chip technology. So in the meantime, state leaders urge EBT-users to remain vigilant. You now have the ability to lock your account through the app. You should keep it locked until you plan to use your card.

Here’s how to lock your card:

1. Download or open the ConnectEBT app on your mobile device.

2. Securely log in to your account and tap the new “Lock/Unlock Card.”

3. Select “Lock My Card Everywhere.”

4. And click “OK.”

Locking your EBT card will block all purchases, balance inquiries, and transactions. When you go shopping, use the ConnectEBT app to unlock your card and lock it again after you check out.

For more ways to protect your benefits, visit: