The Investigative Process for Food Stamp Fraud

Has anyone been investigated for food stamps? The simple answer is yes. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) meant for no- and low-income people to receive food aid.

As a result, you can receive a food stamp investigation letter that indicates you have raised some red flags within the system. Therefore, it would help to understand the investigative process for food stamp fraud to avoid getting in trouble.

What Is Food Stamp Fraud?

Food stamp fraud refers to the intentional activities someone engages in that break state and federal laws concerning the SNAP program. So, do not confuse it with errors, which are mistakes you may commit in the process of applying for and receiving SNAP benefits.

Food stamp fraud can occur in the following ways:

  • When people deliberately misrepresent information when putting in a SNAP application to get benefits they aren’t entitled to or more than what they should receive.
  • When one exchanges SNAP benefits for other items that do not qualify under the food stamp program.
  • When someone exchanges food stamp benefits for cash.
  • When a store owner illegally attempts to participate in SNAP when they are ineligible to do so.

Qualifications for SNAP

To reduce your chances of getting a food stamp investigation letter or any accusations, you first need to ensure you are qualified for SNAP. When you are eligible for food stamps, you are less likely to get in trouble.

Eligibility criteria for SNAP include the following:

  • You must apply in the state you currently reside in.
  • You must meet the state’s resource and income limits.
  • You must meet the work requirements depending on which category you fall under.
  • You must participate in an eligibility interview in-person, by phone or through a designated representative to verify the information you provided during your SNAP application.
  • Your household can have ​$2,500​ in countable resources (includes cash or money in the bank) or ​$3,750​ in countable resources if one or more household members are ​60 years​ or older.

How to Report Food Stamp Fraud

However, if you know someone already receiving SNAP benefits committing fraud, you can report them at any time and let the law take its course.

1. Contact the Inspect General

If you are aware of food stamp fraud, you can file a report with the USDA Inspector General.

Use the following numbers:

  • (800) 424-9121
  • (202) 690-1622
  • (202) 690-1202 (TDD)

Alternatively, you can mail them at:

United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General

PO Box 23399

Washington, DC 20026-3399

Reporting online is an option too. But you can also fax them at: ​(202) 690-2474​.

2. Contact Your State Office

Second, you can file a confidential report with your state. Each state has different contact addresses via phone, email or through their website online.

The Food Stamp Fraud Investigation Process

Suppose someone reports you for fraud or your SNAP-based activities trigger the Anti-Fraud Locator Using EBT Retailer Transactions (ALERT) system red flags. In that case, you may receive a food stamp investigation letter. In that case, you have ​10 days​ to respond to the results of the investigation.

However, if the investigation is ongoing, a food stamp investigator may reach out to talk to you, your employer, neighbors and other people who know you. They may also conduct a sting operation. So, be careful.

It would be best to hire an attorney to represent you as long as you are under investigation. And your local legal aid office could help you with that. However, representing yourself is also a choice. But signing anything or answering questions without a legal expert to represent you is a bad idea.

You can request an Administrative Disqualification Hearing to defend yourself. Then the powers that be can determine if you are guilty of Intentional Program Violation (IPV) or if you or someone else made a mistake.

You can choose to opt to not attend, admit to fraud, opt to attend and testify, or attend and not testify. But if you are found to be guilty, you will be penalized for food stamp fraud. Penalties include:

  • Suspension of food stamp benefits for one year or more.
  • Termination from the program that will prevent you from participating as a store owner.
  • Repayment of the amount you received while being ineligible.
  • Criminal prosecution for fraud resulting in community service, fines, imprisonment or probation.

Receiving a food stamp investigation letter is not the end of the world. But it is always best to ensure you are eligible for the SNAP program and stick to the rules to avoid paying any penalties for violating the regulations.