The news is always littered with stories about street deals gone wrong: drugs, money and other sordid tales. What the news typically neglects to shed light upon is the world of food stamp fraud street deals. According to a KARE News article, drug deals may not be the only thing tearing up streets: another scam is generating some interest: trading food stamps for cash.
The article reports that a Minnesota man has been accused of committing food stamp fraud. That’s a big deal in the state. Minnesota, like other states, is making an effort to stop scams that bilk the U.S. government of benefits intended for those actually in need of the assistance. (I “need” money. Ok, does that count? Uh, no.)
While the defendant is merely accused and deserves his day in court, the case itself offers an interesting look at a new approach to food stamp fraud: trolling the streets outside of homeless shelters for food stamp and other government benefits. (Yes, you read that right.) In the defendant’s case, prosecutors say he waited outside of homeless shelters, hooking up with homeless individuals who are recipients of food stamp benefit cards. They further assert the defendant then took the cards to a local market or grocer to illegally get cash or store credit. Lastly, they say he then returned the benefit cards to the rightful owners, with a cut of the proceeds. The cost to taxpayers for this alleged crime? Nearly $30,000.
Whether the defendant is guilty or not, this case is instructive because it showcases how a fraudster could identify some of society’s neediest individuals and profit from their unfortunate circumstances. At the same time, it is important to point out that the homeless individuals who participate in this type of scheme are likely guilty of defrauding the food stamp program, as well. And, what about the grocers who trade the cards for cash? Someone shows up with multiple cards in at a grocery store and no one finds that suspicious? Sounds a bit fishy to me. All of which begs the question, how does food stamp fraud impact the program nationally? The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that food stamp fraud only amounts to one percent of the program. (And, I’ll say it again: that seems low to me.)
Bottom line: we need a better system so some “Joe-Schmo” can’t walk into a market or grocer and use the benefits of another. It’s one thing to borrow a few bucks for lunch; it’s another to borrow money you don’t deserve from the government without giving it back. Oh wait…that’s called stealing. Well, at least everyone gets a hot meal in jail.