Greensboro, NC -- Three billion dollars, all of it tax money, pays for food stamps in our state - 830,000 families.
That's 1.8 million men, women and children, who need our help to survive.
But $3 billion is obviously too much for crooks to pass up, even if it means taking food out of the mouths
of children and money out of your pocket.
And you know it's bad when you need a detective to chase down food stamp thieves.
Guilford County Welfare Fraud Investigator Greg Williams shed light on this rare, but outrageous problem.
Frank: "Give me an example of what people are selling or have sold their EBT cards for." Greg: "There are instances where individuals will sell them for 50 cents on the dollar." Frank: "So the card has a certain amount of money on it. And they'll sell it for half of what's on the card." Greg: "Or what they claim is on the card."
"I have heard instances where some of my fellow investigators have had $14,000, almost $20,000. Again it varies from case to case," Williams said.
So here's how it's supposed to work. Let's say I'm on food stamps. The government is giving me money every month to take care of my kids and myself to make sure we have food on our table.
But how does the state know that I'm buying what I'm supposed to buy with that EBT card? Let's say I want to buy some wine for a special occasion or a 12-pack of beer for the big game.
The code in this EBT card will only allow you to buy food, period. If you try to buy something illegal, like beer, it'll decline payment.
Frank: "It won't even debit the money off the card?" Greg: "No."
But a misguided few have found ways around it.
Williams said, "Individuals have traded or sold their EBT cards to businesses where they've received cash. They've, bought alcohol, cigarettes, bought non-eligible EBT or non-eligible food stamp items."
And in extremely rare cases - cashiers have conspired with the creeps to scan one thing... And bag the wrong thing.
To catch people who go this far, our detectives typically need to hear about it from the public.
Frank: "If they really need money to buy food for their family, why would they do that?" Greg: "That is a great question that nobody wants to answer. The only thing I can think of it's pure greed. Or they have some sort of issue in their life that they need the money for." Frank: "Drugs maybe or..." Greg: "It could be drugs."
Frank: "That food is not getting to the kids that really need the food. Is that happening too? Because of whatever problems or issues a person may have or they're selling their card or whatever else?" Greg: "It has happened in the past."
Frank: "How does that affect you when you come across a case or hear about a case like that? That kids are not getting the food they need and the money was right there?" Greg: "It gets frustrating, but it also gets disheartening too, because you know that there are children who really needs these benefits."
Here's the good news.
In other states, it's possible for someone to swipe their EBT card and buy whatever they want.
Our system doesn't allow that.
And that's why it's so rare.
It's estimated food stamp fraud only happens in one in every 100 recipients.
And if the state catches you, they will get that money back, either by taking it out of your paycheck, your social security check. It will comes out of your pocket.
And you can you can get hit with a misdemeanor. even a felony criminal charge.