PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) is warning of a statewide increase in scams involving EBT cards.

Kim Merolla-Brito, acting director of the DHS, tells 12 News more than 300 Rhode Islanders have had their benefits wiped from their accounts since October 2022.

Merolla-Brito estimates that scammers have stolen more than $172,000 in SNAP and RI Works benefits. She said the lost money is having a detrimental impact on those who rely on their EBT cards to get by.

“They go to use those cards and those funds are not there,” she explained.

Merolla-Brito believes the scammers are gaining access to Rhode Islanders’ accounts by “skimming” their EBT cards.

Skimming happens when a scammer illegally attaches a device to an ATM, point-of-sale terminal or fuel pump to grab a cardholders’ PIN.

Merolla-Brito said scammers may also be gaining access to Rhode Islanders’ benefits through phishing emails and text messages.

“DHS never asks customers for their PIN,” she said. “We don’t send emails that ask for any personal information.”

Merolla-Brito said DHS has been able to reissue victims’ benefits using grant money.

But that money won’t be available forever, she warned.

In the meantime, Merolla-Brito said there is an active investigation into the scheme.

The DHS suggests EBT card holders changed their PIN frequently, even if their account hasn’t been compromised.

Sarah Guernelli ( is the consumer investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.