North Carolina, like other states, takes food stamp fraud very seriously. Depending on the circumstances, the Department of Social Services may require repayment of benefits received. In other instances, the District Attorney may get involved, which can result in heftier penalties -- including jail time -- if convicted.
Types of Fraud
Food stamp fraud can take on many forms. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a common form of fraud is food stamp trafficking. This occurs when someone exchanges food stamp benefits for non-food items of value, such as cash, weapons and drugs. Retailers also can commit food stamp fraud. This typically happens when a store accepts food stamps as payment for such items as alcohol and tobacco rather than food. Fraud also can occur when someone lies on her food stamp application to qualify for benefits.
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When the Department of Social Services suspects someone has committed food stamp fraud, it opens an investigation. This may involve speaking with the food stamp recipient and persons associated with her, such as an employer, landlord and neighbors. DSS also may schedule a hearing, at which DSS presents its case and gives the person suspected of fraud an opportunity to defend herself. If fraud is found, DSS typically gives the recipient an opportunity to pay back the fraudulently received benefits. She also may be disqualified from receiving future benefits for a specific amount of time.
DSS may choose to go in another direction and criminally prosecute the suspected fraudster. If this route is chosen, DSS forwards the case to the District Attorney. If the benefits are valued above $400, the DA has the option of charging the suspected fraudster with a felony. If convicted, the defendant may be subjected to time behind bars, fines or both. Repayment of fraudulently received benefits also typically is required. In addition, a welfare fraud conviction disqualifies the person from receiving benefits in the future. For example, using food stamp benefits to purchase drugs results in a two-year ban. If the person lies about who she is or where she lives to get food stamps, she is banned for 10 years.
Report food stamp fraud by calling the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services at (800) 662-7030 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. You also can report fraud to the local DSS office in your county. Some DSS offices, such as Almanace County, have special hotlines just for this purpose. If you wish to remain anonymous, don't provide your name or other identifying information when calling in your tip.