NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Food stamps are supposed to help the neediest in our communities. The goal is to use tax dollars to fight hunger, but, we've now learned scammers are using the websites we look at every day to commit fraud.
We've found food stamps are for sale on social media.
It is a new twist on an age-old crime: people boldly looking to buy and sell their food stamps, -- or SNAP and EBT cards as they're also known -- on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
A simple search on Facebook revealed the possible criminal activity. Type in the words "food stamps for sale" and the results keep popping up.
One user wrote, "Anybody got some Food Stamps for sale?"
Another posted "Food Stamps for sale ... 50¢ on a $1.00"
Another user was looking to feed his family. He wrote "Food stamps for sale??? Me and my kids need um ‼️ ‼️"
A Twitter search yielded similar results. One tweet read: "Speaking of government assistance who got some food stamps for sale."
One user wrote: "Anybody got food stamps for sale? I'm having a cookout next Saturday."
Jaswinder Singh owns the A & G mini-mart in Norfolk. He accepts EBT cards regularly.
“They buy on the first of the month on EBT, so they buy a lot of food,” he described.
In FY 2015, the federal government helped about 46 million people purchase food through SNAP. On average, recipients got about $258 a month in assistance.
Food stamps are supposed to be used only for food.
“Customers, they ask sometimes, ask for me giving cash back,” Singh recalled. “No, I don't do that.”
We've learned Singh's experience is not rare. In just one year's time, a state report shows the Virginia Department of Social Services received 13,202 allegations of fraud.
“I think it's wrong,” said Danny Leary of Norfolk, in response to the social media postings. “I really think it's wrong.”
“I think it's cheating the system,” added Elizabeth Kreider.
Howard Piland, who also accepts SNAP benefits at B and H Produce in Suffolk, believed the consequences go beyond a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“It's bad because the people who are out here selling these cards and they got kids at home, they're the ones going to suffer, because they're not going to get anything to eat,” Piland surmised.
So we went to Richmond to find out just how big of a problem this is and what the Virginia Department of Social Services is doing about it. We got answers from Tom Steinhauser, the Director of Benefits Programs.
“It's concerning, but it's very difficult to pursue those individuals,” he reacted.
Tom Steinhauser explained that oftentimes, by the time a local investigator gets the fraud referral, the post has been taken down or the deal has already gone down. Still, he said, they are trying to be good stewards of tax dollars.
We asked if there are consequences for this kind of behavior.
“Oh, absolutely,” Steinhauser reacted. “They can be prosecuted and go to jail. They can have an administrative qualification, so they can't participate in the program, and most often, they have to repay the benefits.”
According to the state report, in 2015, there were convictions in only 180 of the 13,202 fraud cases.
We asked Steinhauser to respond to the concerns of the people, who say they expect their money to be put to good use.
Laura Geller: This is a taxpayer-funded benefit, there's got to be a way to prevent this from happening. What would you say to that?
Tom Steinhauser: I think people who want to commit crimes are going to figure out way to commit crimes no matter what you do. I think we find that all the time and as soon as you put some preventative measure there, they'll find another way around it.
If you think there's something shady going on at a SNAP retailer, there are a number of ways to report the allegations.
Fraud reports of any kind may be filed with the USDA Office of Inspector General. You can contact them the following ways:
- (800) 424-9121
- (202) 690-1622
- (202) 690-1202 (TDD)
United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General
PO Box 23399
Washington, DC 20026-3399
You can also report fraud to your State