Common Penalties for Food Stamp Fraud in Georgia

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The food stamp program in the state of Georgia is an excellent resource for those who need financial assistance. However, there are many ways that the food stamp system can be exploited. Any type of food stamp fraud is completely illegal and punishable in a variety of ways. Below, review information on forms of food stamp fraud, how to recognize and report it and the punishments associated.

Forms of Food Stamp Fraud

There are several different types of food stamp fraud that are punishable by law. One form of it is the trading of SNAP benefits for actual money. Some people try to sell their food stamps outright, while others offer to buy groceries for friends with their food stamp benefits in exchange for the friends giving them cash. Either way, that practice, which is called trafficking, is highly illegal.

Another way in which people can commit food stamp fraud is to lie on their applications for food stamps. The purpose of lying on the application might be to make sure that they receive any benefits at all. However, some people who know they would be eligible without lying still lie on their applications anyway for the purpose of increasing the amount of food stamp credits their households will receive.

Organizations and state employees can also commit food stamp fraud in various ways. Those fraud cases are taken just as seriously at both the state and federal levels. Those who commit those forms of fraud can receive a lot of fines and jail time.

How to Recognize Food Stamp Fraud

It is easiest to recognize food stamp fraud if someone asks you to be involved in it. If so, say no. Otherwise, you could find yourself paying hefty fines or going to jail, depending on your level of involvement. You might also find out that someone is committing food stamp fraud by overhearing conversations or through having personal knowledge of a person’s income or living situation.

Where to Report Food Stamp Fraud

The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) oversees the SNAP program and the distribution of food stamp benefits. The department also processes all claims of food stamp fraud. So, if you suspect someone of trying to cheat the food stamp system, you should contact the DHS right away. You can call the DHS and remain anonymous or fill out an online form, which also offers the option of anonymity. However, you can also provide an e-mail address or a phone number if you want to elaborate on the situation.

How Food Stamp Fraud Is Officially Investigated

If you do report someone that you suspect of lying on his or her food stamp application or is otherwise cheating the system, then the Department of Human Services is obligated to start an official investigation. That will be conducted by both the state and the federal governments. They can track EBT card usage patterns and look into people’s living situations to try to verify or disprove your claim. Not every suspected case of food stamp fraud is actually true, and there aren’t generally any penalties for accidentally reporting someone who is innocent. But, it is still best to carefully check your facts before involving state and federal resources in the investigation of the claim.

Punishments for Food Stamp Fraud

Punishments for committing food stamp fraud can be quite severe, especially since those who are suspected of it can be prosecuted in local, state and federal courts. Anyone proven to have committed food stamp fraud may be banned from receiving food stamp assistance again for a set amount of time. That time period may depend on the severity of the offense and whether or not it is a first offense. The time period can be anywhere from one year to a permanent ban. Any benefits collected fraudulently may also have to be repaid over a set period of time.

In the state of Georgia it is considered a felony to commit more than $500 in food stamp fraud. Those convicted of at least $500 in food stamp fraud can expect to serve up to five years in jail and pay hefty fines, as well. These beneficiaries may potentially have to deal with other bans for the rest of their lives also, such as not being able to join the military or the inability to carry firearms.

Despite the stiff penalties for food stamp fraud, if you know or even suspect that someone is committing it, then it is your duty to report it. It is important to keep the food stamp system as honest as possible. Otherwise, the people who actually need the help may not be able to receive as much assistance as they need in the future because the funds may not be there.