How To Protect Your SNAP Benefits

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) stock photo
hapabapa / iStock.com

Known as Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, or EBTs, SNAP debit cards can be used in all 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. But as an EBT is a debit card, you have to safeguard it, as someone else may be able to use your benefits if your card is lost or stolen. Here are some suggestions for how to protect your SNAP benefits, along with steps you should take if your card goes missing. 

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How To Protect Your EBT Card

Your EBT card comes protected with a PIN code that should be known only to you. As this PIN code has the power to unlock all of the benefits on the card, you should take extra steps to ensure that no one ever learns your PIN. If you think someone has access to your PIN, or if you inadvertently handed that information out to a third party, you should call your state’s EBT customer service line immediately to change your PIN.

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Just as with any of your other debit cards, you should also make sure to keep a careful eye on your EBT card. Never leave it in your car or anywhere out of your physical control while you are outside, and don’t leave it lying around your house unattended either. In other words, handle your EBT card the same way that you would cash. 

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What To Do If Your Card Is Lost or Stolen

If your EBT card is lost or stolen, your SNAP benefits are subject to loss. That’s why it’s important to spring into action the moment that you think your card may be misplaced. 

While every state might have a slightly different process, so that you have an example of how things might go, here are the steps you should take if you think that your California EBT card was lost or stolen, according to the California Department of Social Services:

  • Call customer service right away at 877-328-9677.
  • Wait through two card number prompts without entering your EBT card number. 
  • You will hear a prompt to report your card as lost or stolen.
  • Once reported, your EBT card is disabled and you are told how to get a new card.
  • Similarly, if your EBT card is damaged and it does not work (cannot be read) at retail or ATM locations, you should request a replacement EBT card as soon as possible.
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If an unauthorized person with your PIN number takes your benefits, they may not be replaced. This is why it is critical to notify your state as soon as possible.

The Bottom Line

If you’re drawing SNAP benefits, they’re likely an important lifeline for you and your family. Keeping those benefits safe should be your top priority. Never leave your EBT card unattended, and keep your personal information, including your PIN code, to yourself. If your card is lost or stolen, the faster you can take action the more likely you’ll be able to protect your benefits. 

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.
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