With Halloween around the corner, it seems all the ads on TV are for spooky shows and movies, Halloween costumes and candies, and fun décor; pick up seasonal magazines and you’ll likely see the same thing. But I can think of something more haunting than ghosts and ghouls, more frightening than haunted houses, and more permanent that an annual holiday – you guessed it, fraud. A Carteret-County News Times article reveals just how haunting the repercussions are for fraudsters – don’t look over your shoulder criminals!

South Carolina’s Carteret County has had a good year implementing its anti-fraud initiatives in its Department of Social Services (DSS) programs.  The article reports that county DSS officials recently received an update on exactly how these efforts are going and learned that the department has collected $63,000 from individuals who had intentionally cheated the system, or individuals accidentally receiving incorrect benefits.  In addition, the article says they are trying to collect on $103,000 more that is owed the state from individuals caught in the act of fraud.  (Just think, it’s only been one year and they’ve determined about $166,000 fraudsters owe back to the government.)

So, what is the hardest area of social services hit by fraud?  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also known as food stamps.  Officials said fraudsters make false claims on applications, often withholding information such as the income of another household member.  DSS revealed that it works on the “three strikes” system, similar to the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) operates, meaning:  If you are caught for fraud once, you are out of the program for a year.  If you are caught twice, you are for two years; and if you are caught a third time, you are out for good.  (I think it should be a “one and done” kind of deal.)  In discussing the process for investigating food stamp fraud, the chairman of the DSS board said:  “Every applicant understands if they give us false information it will come back to haunt them.”

It’s chilling to think of facing jail time or hefty fines.  Fortunately, as a non-fraudster, it isn’t on my list of worries.  Carteret County’s success is a model for other counties to follow.  This is one county that is sending a clear warning to current and prospective fraudsters – haunting is not just for Halloween!

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