While there is no doubt food stamps have played a vital role in helping millions of people feed themselves and their families, it is also true many people have been able to abuse the system and commit acts of fraud. Specifically, many retailers who accept SNAP payments have committed acts of fraud by allowing SNAP recipients to use food stamps for unauthorized purchases, such as alcohol. If you are an individual facing food stamp fraud charges or a retailer who has been accused of food stamp trafficking, these charges should be taken very seriously. To ensure you get the best results for your case, always rely on the expertise of knowledgeable food stamp fraud attorneys.
Who Commits Food Stamp Fraud?
While many individuals have been found guilty of committing food stamp fraud over the years, research has shown that most of these acts are committed by retailers themselves. In particular, smaller retail stores in local neighborhoods, rather than larger chain supermarkets, are often the ones involved in these fraud cases. Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the past five years have seen a sharp increase in the number of retailers participating in SNAP, with an increase of over 40 percent. Yet while most EBT payments are made in larger chain supermarkets, less than one percent of food stamp fraud is done at stores where well over 80 percent of the benefits are spent.
Grand Larceny Charges
If you are a store owner who is suddenly facing allegations of food stamp fraud or food stamp trafficking, there is a good chance you will find grand larceny charges levied against you. In many of these cases, store owners are charged with third-degree grand larceny, which carries with it a prison sentence of as much as seven years. When allegations of this nature are made, investigations are conducted by various sources, including the local district attorney’s office, USDA, and possibly a state agency in charge of disability payments or public assistance. Since these agencies will have vast resources at their disposal, they are likely to build a strong case against you. To counter this, you will need expert legal representation, which is why you should always work with food stamp trafficking attorneys who have track records of success in these cases.
How Fraud is Committed
While it may sound as if committing food stamp fraud is very complicated, it is actually far easier to do than most people realize. For individuals, it is easy due to a welfare system that is overwhelmed with cases. Because of this, case workers have little time to examine specifics related to their clients, making it easy to lie about the number of children in the household or other matters. As for retailers, it is often easy since small retailers usually enter EBT into a cash register manually rather than scanning bar codes. Because of this, fraudulent purchases can be easier to hide. However, since these codes are entered manually, it is also possible for mistakes to be made that can give the appearance of a fraudulent act taking place, when in fact that was not the intention. If you have been accused of food stamp fraud and trafficking due to a simple error you made on your cash register, do not let this ruin your business and land you in jail. Instead, turn to food stamp fraud attorneys who know how to examine these cases and fight hard for the legal rights of their clients.
What is Trafficking?
In legal terms, trafficking is defined in these cases as exchanging food stamps for money or other non-food items such as gasoline or alcohol. While some merchants allow these practices to occur with the belief they are actually helping those less fortunate pay their bills or meet other expenses, the fact remains this practice is against the law. As a result, many merchants are expected to repay whatever amount of money is involved to the federal government, which in some instances can be millions of dollars. However, the court may reduce this amount in exchange for a merchant’s testimony against customers who used their food stamps for fraudulent purposes. You cannot sell goods like: bongs, reclaim catchers, justin cabernet sauvignon wines, etc.
Selling EBT Cards
Surprisingly, selling EBT cards in a fraudulent manner is much easier than you may expect. In many cases, they are sold openly on Facebook or other online sites. For some people, this may seem like an easy way to obtain these cards to use for various purposes. However, it is important to note that should an individual be found to be in possession of a fraudulent EBT card valued at $100 or more, it is considered a felony.
If you are an individual or merchant who is being accused of EBT trafficking, the penalties can be very severe. As mentioned earlier, you may be expected to pay back millions of dollars to the federal government. Along with this, the USDA has been given the authority to immediately suspend EBT payments to a retailer, attach fines to their business, and in some cases automatically and permanently disqualify a merchant from the SNAP program if they are found to be guilty of fraud.
Due to the serious nature of these cases and the various complexities that go along with them, never assume everything will take care of itself. Instead, place your trust in food stamp fraud and trafficking attorneys who know how to win these cases.