EBT Card Fraud Running Rampant
ATLANTA — Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards: They’re issued to make access to money easier for those on the Georgia state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. But with that assistance, comes restrictions.
The money is specifically for use on groceries.
As our 11Alive Investigators found out, that is not always happening.
In 2011, we helped stop taxpayer fraud by exposing EBT cards from being used illegally. But once the laws got changed, so did the approach of those trying to break those laws.
EBT abuse is running rampant.
“Do you wanna give me 60 bucks cash?” asked one man looking to sell an EBT card.
“And then how much food would I get out of there?” replied Jeremy. He’s working with us.
“You’d get 99 bucks in food,” the man said.
But to put a stop to the abuse, you have to be able to catch it.
“Do you know if this illegal or not?” asked Jeremy.
“I don’t know,” the man replied. “Why — are you a cop?”
He decided it was not a good idea to stick around, and began to walk away.
“I ain’t no cop — but I do have to tell you something. Where are you going? You don’t have to run, man. I just want to get your story.”
Jeremy is wearing an undercover camera, trying to expose EBT fraud.
“This might be him,” Jeremy said later.
Darius is currently getting EBT assistance from the state of Georgia. They are meeting at a parking lot because of ads like this, in places like Craigslist: “Selling my $500 EBT card for $350 cash” or “You need groceries, I need money. $300 card for sale – cash only.”
“Are you the dude on Craigslist?” Jeremy asked.
“Yeah,” Darius answered, laughing.
“So, tell me, how does this work?” Jeremy asked. “How is this system gonna work — what do you want? What do you need me to do?”
“You’re gonna get $100 worth of food, and then give me $60 cash,” Darius said.
The state of Georgia doles out millions of tax dollars each month to assist residents in need.
“How much money do you get from Georgia every month?” Jeremy asked. “Are they pretty generous or is –”
“They give me $200,” Darius said.
Normal benefits are $194 a month for individuals, but can be as much as thousands a month for families — and all of it for people in need of food.
“So if I get like 100 bucks worth, you’d swipe it and I’d pay you 60 bucks,” Jeremy said.
“Yeah,” Darius said.
“That’s how it’s going to work?” Jeremy asked.
“Yeah,” Darius replied.
It’s a way around the new restrictions — turning those EBT cards into cash.
“Well, the system is clearly broken,” said Georgia state Sen. John Albers. “We need to focus on giving people a hand-up and not just a hand-out.”
Albers should know.
After a 2011 investigation by 11Alive News where we caught EBT cards being used at liquor stores, cigar shops and strip clubs, Albers took charge to get the new restrictions put in place. Once the government cracked down on EBT fraud, the cards could no longer be used for anything but groceries.
“Man, I don’t feel right about this,” Jeremy said. “I feel like I’m gonna get taken.”
“Why’s that?” Darius asked.
“I don’t know, I just don’t feel right about this,” Jeremy said. “I just feel like it’s illegal.”
“I mean, I don’t know,” said Darius. “I mean, it’s mine and that’s yours. So, how is that illegal?”
Selling EBT cards for cash is against the law in the state of Georgia. But even if Jeremy called the Georgia State Patrol, they could not help.
“I got card,” Darius said.
“That says Georgia EBT,” said Jeremy.
“Yeah, it still works here,” Darius replied.
“Here,” in this case, is Colorado. Darius gets his EBT sent to him from Georgia and uses it in Colorado.
“The fact that this gentleman is not even living in the state and he is receiving benefits and using them in another state is another clear example that something has gone afoul,” Albers said.
To receive Georgia EBT benefits, the very first requirement is that you have to live in Georgia.
“And it’s really an atrocity. We have a responsibility to protect every single tax dollar,” Albers said. “We don’t have any money in government. We have the people’s and we need to be good stewards of that and those who are breaking that law need to be held accountable, and they need to no longer receive benefit, and if necessary, go to jail.”
Back to Jeremy and Darius —
“You gotta know you can’t sell benefits,” Jeremy said. “It’s against the law.”
It’s against the law? How much jail time does it have?” asked Darius.
“Well, it could be a federal offense,” Jeremy replied.
“Oh, sh**,” said Darius.
Albers says this type of abuse needs to stop now.
“And a follow-up from this meeting; this interview, we’ll be working with our state agencies to see how we can go after these perpetrators immediately as well as solve the overall problem,” Albers said.
Albers says he would like to see more controls added to the cards, like fingerprinting and facial recognition. Plus, he says it is time to expose those trolling online trying to profit from what the government keeps giving them.