There are many advantages to online shopping. With a click of a button, traffic, long lines and big crowds at the mall disappear and a desired item is on its way to your house. Hard-to-find treasures can be discovered through online marketplaces – likened to the world’s largest yard sale – without ever leaving the comfort of your own home. It’s amazing what you can find on the Internet and, according to FoxNews.com, even food stamps can now be bought online (illegally) for a reduced rate. (This is a big no-no because these benefits are not allowed to be transferred, not to mention that it’s just plain wrong.)

The story reports that ads are popping up on bulletin boards and auction sites all across the country offering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards for cash. (It’s amazing what some people will do for a deal.) Sellers generally offer the welfare benefits at large discounts, and those who are genuinely hungry are taking the bait, while others use the benefits to purchase drugs or other items that are not allowed under the program’s strict guidelines. The article states that it is difficult to catch the food stamp sellers, who are trying to make a few bucks at the expense of the government. Unless an online complaint is logged, it’s virtually impossible to track down the fraudsters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency that administers the SNAP program, attempted to reduce the practice of selling EBT cards in 2012. The agency gave individual states more authority to investigate beneficiaries who requested multiple replacements of SNAP and EBT cards. If a beneficiary replaced their card more than four times in a year, they were required to explain how they lost their cards and were subject to the loss of their benefits. (Four times? That sounds pretty lenient to me.) Because EBT cards do not have a photo ID, it is easy for a recipient to sell his or her benefits for cash and then report the card as lost or stolen to receive a new one. (Why not add a photo ID to the card?) Beneficiaries can also get around the system by failing to report a new job or an increase in earnings, which might disqualify them from receiving their welfare benefits. (This sounds like a great opportunity for the USDA to catch fraudsters by cross-checking the food stamp beneficiary list against the National Directory of New Hires.)

Online marketplaces offer a shopping bonanza for those cheaters who are looking to make extra cash at the expense of hard-working, taxpayers. The USDA does not tolerate fraud in its SNAP program, which offers food stamps to nearly 50 million people, and is working to provide state agencies with the necessary tools to eradicate the practice. The agency’s crackdown so far has led to the investigation of nearly 850,000 people and resulted in 1,200 stores being removed from the program across the country for illegal action. (Buyer Beware – that deal might look great online, but watch out for the consequences of illegal actions. No returns or exchanges are allowed if dissatisfied not to mention the possible loss of benefits or even jail time.)

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