LA tracks food stamp fraud closely - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

LA tracks food stamp fraud closely

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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) -

More than 380,000 Louisiana families have asked the state for help buying food. The help comes in the form of food stamps, or SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

And not surprisingly, some are taking advantage of the offer - the methods of fraud are varied and inventive.

"We get complaints every day on different recipients we actually have a number of retailer investigations going on right now, that not only involve us but federal agencies and parish agencies," said Jesse Wright, the Director of Department of Children and Family Services in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

This software tracks the recipient's purchases, and even displays them on a geographically accurate map.

"We have reports that are built in that identify patterns or indicate what we suspect to be fraud," said Wright.

And it goes beyond GPS mapping.

"Every time they swipe a card it allows us to see how they're spending the dollars as well as where they're spending the money, and when," said Trey Williams, DCFS spokesman.

"I think that's invading your privacy and you should be able to do something on your own without people tracking you," said Roxell Nelson, a food stamp recipient.

And tracking is exactly what it does. It's GPS based software provides detailed information about the person using food stamps - information that can raise questions.

"Is the recipient doing something fraudulent or is the store doing something fraudulent, or is it a combination of both?" asks Williams.

One fraudulent practice involves both the retailer and the customer, in this scenario the customer will bring in their food stamp card ask to swipe it for cash, the retailer will swipe it for cash, give the customer some cash and keep a small percentage for the business. Now the customer has cash to spend wherever they want, and the business can potentially make 1,000's of dollars of profit each month, and it's not free, it comes from your tax dollars.

"These recipients are receiving public benefits, and so it's important for us to make sure the benefits are being used for proper purposes," said Williams.

A point that's not completely lost on some food stamp recipients.

"I think they should be able to know what we buy with our food stamps because we are spending government money, but I don't believe they should be able to track us where we spend it when we spend it, how we spend it," said Steven Hinds, a food stamp recipient.

"I believe that's an invasion of privacy," said Roxell Nelson, a food stamp recipient.

Some of the information has, more or less, been available, just not so readily available.

"Ten years ago I was involved in a big trafficking investigation in the New Orleans area. It literally took us months to come up with the same data. This we're able to come up within a matter of minutes now," said Wright.

Last year the software helped recover 3 million dollars. But that's just a fraction of the hundreds of million dollars in food stamps distributed each year.

Several recent cases of food stamp fraud in Caddo Parish have resulted in arrests, and a conviction - with a six month suspended jail sentence, probation, and full restitution.

If you know of someone abusing or defrauding SNAP, call 1-888-524-3578.

For more information on SNAP visit the website at DSS.LA.gov.   

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