NEW YORK CITY - Food stamps, also known as benefits given by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), help many people afford the nutritious food they need. It's a helpful government benefit that aids millions of families nationwide and the United States Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) does not tolerate food stamp fraud.

SNAP fraud is a serious crime, that takes advantage of low income families. FNS works closely with the state and federal partners, law enforcement, SNAP retailers, EBT processors, and other industry experts to prevent and detect food stamp frauds, or scams. This guide will help you recognize food stamp fraud and help you make the most of your government benefits.

Types of Food Stamp Fraud and How They Affect You

Any activity done to deliberately misuse or misrepresent SNAP is considered food stamp fraud. Most of the time, it occurs when a person purposely provides false information or withholds information in order to receive government benefits they would otherwise not be eligible for. This can include things such as falsifying income or household size, providing false residency information, scams or selling/trading food stamp benefits for cash or non-food items. Here is a more in depth look at the kinds of SNAP frauds:

Retailer Fraud

Retailer fraud refers to people who are authorized to accept SNAP benefits and commit fraud by exchanging the government benefits for cash or ineligible items — such as cigarettes or alcohol. Retailers, such as store owners or clerks, who knowingly break the rules and sell items not allowable in SNAP or that were originally purchased with SNAP, or people who falsify their information on their application for their store to accept SNAP benefits — are subject to be penalized. People who commit retailer fraud may face consequences such as:

  • Temporary or permanent disqualification as a SNAP retailer.
  • Application denial or authorization withdrawal.
  • Financial penalties, known as a civil monetary penalty.
  • Criminal charges and prosecution resulting in fines and/or prison time.

Recipient Fraud

Recipient Fraud occurs when a SNAP recipient deliberately violates program rules, for example, they may misrepresent information on their application to receive more benefits then they deserve. People who commit recipient fraud may falsify income or identity information, or they may sell their benefits for cash. The FNS provides much support to SNAP agency partners to prevent recipient frauds. Recipient fraud has severe penalties, which include:

  • Temporary or permanent disqualification from SNAP.
  • Repayment of benefits obtained illegally.
  • Criminal charges and prosecution resulting in fines and/or prison time.

SNAP fraud

SNAP frauds occurs when people outside of the program take advantage of others via scams such as card skimming, card cloning and other methods of stealing SNAP benefits. Educating yourself on how the program works can help you avoid such scams.

How to prevent food stamp fraud

The best way to prevent SNAP fraud is by staying educated and keeping your information safe. If you suspect any out-of-the-norm activity, you must report it You can contact the department of agriculture's office of the inspector general to report frauds. Here are a few practical steps you can take to keep your information safe:

Verify your information and keep it updated

Make sure you monitor your EBT Account regularly and check any transactions you make with your SNAP card for anything suspicious. If you believe your benefits have been stolen declare your EBT card as stolen and get a new card. Be sure to report frauds so that you can keep your benefits.

Use Your Benefits Wisely

Try to stay well informed on what you can use your SNAP benefits for. Review the list of eligible items here. Also make sure the store, grocery or farmer's market you go to clearly states they accept SNAP benefits — they usually have a sign outside the storefront.

Safeguard your EBT card and PIN

Its important to treat your EBT card like a debit card. When you use your card, inspect the card reading machine before you use it. Skimmers are designed to look like the card reading machine that they fit over and will likely be difficult to notice. Here are some helpful tips to see if there is a skimmer being used:

  • Some block LED indicator lights or illuminated backlit keypad numbers, or partially covered stylus/pen trays.
  • The faceplate may be loose, appear ill-fitting, or be easily dislodged from the body of the machine.
  • The faceplate may be miscolored, texturally mismatched, or otherwise appear different than the body of the card reading machine.
  • The easiest way to check for a skimmer is to gently pull up on the terminal. They are flimsy and will come right off

Make sure to also protect your PIN. Do not share your personal identification number (PIN) with anyone that you do not want to use your account. New York State, county, and EBT staff will never ask you to share your PIN. If someone asks you to tell them your PIN, assume it is a scam. Never write your PIN on the card and cover they keypad when you enter your PIN on a machine.

How to report food stamp fraud

You can anonymously report fraud several ways:

  • Contact  your state. This is especially important if you think someone lied about their income or assets or is misusing their benefits.
  • Call: (800) 424-9121; (202) 690-1202 (TDD)
  • Write: USDA Office of Inspector General, PO Box 23399, Washington, DC 20026-3399
  • Submit a report to the USDA Office of Inspector General  online.

Bottom line

Individuals who engage in food stamp fraud are committing a significant offense that exploits low-income families. FNS collaborates closely with state and federal agencies, law enforcement, SNAP retailers, EBT processors and other industry specialists to consistently improve their initiatives in preventing, detecting, and eradicating fraud. Be sure to keep your information safe and report frauds when necessary.

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