SNAP Fraud Hurts Those Most in Need

The federal government’s SNAP program—what many people still refer to as “food stamps”—is a vital program that ensures millions of Americans have enough to eat. Unfortunately, as most of us know all too well, scammers and fraud thieves have zero morals when it comes to stepping on someone’s back to make a quick buck.

SNAP fraud can manifest itself in different ways, from the simple card selling scam to outright identity theft, but there are a couple of common avenues for this type of crime. In the case of the cardholder himself committing fraud, a card owner may be selling the use of his card and PIN for cash, using businesses that provide cash back under the table, or other similar means of taking cash in exchange for the benefits allotment on the card. But in the more dire case of government benefits identity theft, a scammer has applied for benefits fraudulently under a stolen name and Social Security number; he then uses or sells the card in the same way as a cardholder scammer while the victim remains unaware.

In the first instance, the end result is tragic. Someone who qualifies for benefits, especially if he or she has young children in the home, is then receiving cash instead of the nutritious food that the taxpayers are providing. But in the second example, there can be far more serious consequences for the victim of the identity theft. The government only knows that the name on the card is receiving this assistance, and the scammer had to provide false information in order to claim the benefits. Once it catches back up with the victim, there will be legal repercussions for claiming assistance while not being eligible, as in someone who works at high-paying job who’s inexplicably receiving government benefits. It will then fall to the victim to follow up and make sure that he doesn’t suffer any penalties.

That’s not even the worst of it. Applying for benefits in someone else’s name also means that the victim is ineligible if he or she ever does need this assistance, as someone is already claiming the SNAP benefits. That’s a frightening prospect to many people who may be facing temporary unemployment. Of course, the fraud happens because the victim’s personal identifying information has been compromised, meaning it’s very possible that other forms of identity theft will quickly follow.

It’s important to note that, while there is a common misperception about the rates of SNAP fraud and welfare fraud, the numbers are declining sharply. A lot of the gains in preventing this crime have occurred due to better technology, better oversight of individuals’ identities, and a greater understanding that this particular crime is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and the working poor.

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Eva Casey Velasquez is the President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization which serves victims of identity theft. Ms. Velasquez previously served as the Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Better Business Bureau and spent 21 years at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. The last 11 of those years were spent conducting economic crimes investigations, with a focus on consumer protection cases such as false advertising and unfair business practices.