COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — New research shows just how widespread SNAP benefit fraud is, and what needs to be done to protect the program formerly known as “food stamps.”

“At this point, by the end of the year, if we don’t do anything, I predict it’ll be a $20 billion problem,” said Haywood Talcove, CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which put together a report on SNAP fraud in the U.S.

The report reveals a rampant issue that was challenging to quantify, as government agencies struggle to keep up.

Talcove explained the research was done using police reports, dark web research, and information available from state agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP.

Roughly one in eight Ohioans receives SNAP benefits to pay for groceries. Through his firm’s research, Talcove estimates that out of the $1.6 billion in benefits paid to Ohioans, there will be about $320 million in fraud.

That’s 20 cents out of every dollar stolen from families who depend on those benefits.

“Twenty percent is on the low end,” Talcove said. “I think it’s going to be much higher, especially if we do nothing.”

The research finds SNAP benefits are most commonly stolen through card skimmers and phishing attacks. Both are preventable, Talcove said, calling on the USDA to do more to fight the fraud, by modernizing.

“The USDA is still using debit cards, right?” he said. “They’re not using credit cards. They’re not requiring their 251,000 retailers to use the machine readers that are, that are chip enabled. They’re not using information and analytics to look at how the benefit dollars are flowing through the retail system. It just doesn’t make any sense”

“(Food and Nutrition Services) continues to explore technology driven payment solutions that may offer improved access and security to SNAP recipients,” said a USDA spokesperson in an emailed statement to NBC4. “Protecting SNAP benefits is something that USDA takes very seriously. We will continue to do everything in our power to combat SNAP fraud.”

The spokesperson pointed out a law recently passed by Congress, ensuring SNAP recipients who are victims of skimming can get their benefit cards replaced.

State agencies that distribute SNAP benefits are allowed to issue chip-enabled cards to SNAP recipients, the USDA said, but no states have done so. In Ohio, that agency is the Department of Job and Family Services. A spokesperson for ODJFS recommends SNAP recipients take the following steps to protect their benefits:

  • Change your PIN monthly.
  • Never share the EBT or cash card number or PIN.
  • Carefully look at any card reader before using your card.
  • When using your card, cover the keypad with your body or hand to stop someone from seeing your PIN.