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Millions of people are in financial hardship and need assistance just to put food on their tables. The SNAP program, also commonly known as food stamps, is available to those who need it. Unfortunately, some people and businesses commit fraud with the SNAP program. Retailers are found to be in violation of the program when they allow people on SNAP to buy items that are not included in the program, such as non-food products like alcohol or cigarettes.
Anyone who faces this type of fraud, which is also known as food stamp trafficking, should take the charges against them very seriously. The best thing to do if you are a person or retailer who has been determined to be in violation of the SNAP program should seek assistance from a lawyer who has experience in the area of SNAP violations.
Who Commits Food Stamp Fraud?
Although many individual people have been found to be in violation of the rules of food stamps, the majority of offenders are retailers. Food stamp fraud is usually committed by smaller local neighborhood retail stores instead of by large chain supermarkets in bigger areas. According to data from the USDA, there has been a vast increase in the number of food stamp fraud cases by retailers that participate in the SNAP program. This increase amounts to more than 40 percent. However, even though most EBT payments take place in larger chain supermarkets, under 1 percent of fraud occurs in smaller stores where more than 80 percent of benefits are spent.
Grand Larceny Charges
If a retail store owner is believed to be in violation of the SNAP program and possibly facing charges of fraud or trafficking, they may likely receive grand larceny charges. Usually, these types of cases result in store owners being charged with grand larceny in the third degree, which is a serious offense that can result in seven years of prison time. When there are allegations of food stamp fraud or trafficking against a retailer, investigations will be performed by different sources, including the USDA, local district attorney’s office and sometimes a state agency that’s in charge of public assistance. There will likely be a strong case made against any retailer who is believed to be guilty of these offenses. As a result, it’s important to have the right legal representation by a skilled food stamp trafficking lawyer who has experience with such cases.
How is Food Stamp Fraud Committed?
An act of committed food stamp fraud is far less complex than it sounds. It’s very easy to commit and is done all the time. When individuals commit fraud, they simply lie and often get away with it because the country’s welfare system is overloaded. Caseworkers may not have the time to check up on all the details of their clients, which makes it easy for individuals to lie and claim they have more children in their home than they actually do or in some other manner.
When retailers commit food stamp fraud, it’s often easy due to smaller stores typically entering EBT into a cash register instead of scanning a bar code when a purchase is made. This makes it easier to conceal the offense. At the same time, codes are manually entered into the cash register, so it’s possible to make an honest error instead of a deliberate act of fraud. Due to this possibility, it’s important to get in touch with an experienced attorney who has handled food stamp fraud cases if you are facing such charges.
What is Trafficking?
Trafficking is the act of accepting something for money. In this case, food stamp trafficking occurs when food stamps are given in exchange for cash or items that don’t qualify under the SNAP program such as alcohol. Although some retailers willingly do this because they think they’re helping people suffering from financial hardship, it is still illegal and a violation of the SNAP program. When a retailer is found to be guilty of food stamp trafficking, they are required to pay back the amount of money illegally obtained to the government. In some cases, this can amount to millions of dollars. Regardless, items such as bongs, wines, cigarettes and more cannot be sold through the food stamps program as they are considered non-qualifying.
Selling EBT Cards
Selling EBT cards fraudulently is much easier than it might seem. When people sell them for fraudulent purposes, they often do it out in the open online, particularly on Facebook or other social media websites. Although it might seem to some that it’s a quick and easy way to get the cards, if a person is found in possession of one that has a value of $100 or greater, it’s a crime that is classified as a felony.
Penalties for Food Stamp Trafficking
Penalties for an individual who is guilty of trafficking food stamps can be harsh. In most cases, the individual is expected to pay back the money to the federal government, and this amount can reach into the millions of dollars range. Additionally, the USDA can suspend EBT payments to any retailer found to be guilty of trafficking. Those retailers can get hefty fines and may even be permanently disqualified from participating in the SNAP program.
Whether you are an individual or a retail store owner who has been accused of food stamp trafficking, these charges are extremely serious and should be viewed equally seriously. You should not try to go it alone when dealing with these allegations. Contact experienced food stamp fraud and trafficking lawyers at your earliest convenience.
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