Ohio issuing fewer replacement food stamp cards

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DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- The number of replacement food stamp cards issued by the state of Ohio is down -- meaning fewer were lost, stolen and used fraudulently.

State data show Ohio issued 327,908 replacement electronic benefit cards in 2013, down 8 percent from 2012. During that period, participation in the program increased.

Food stamp benefits are uploaded monthly on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which are similar to debit cards and require a personal identification number.

The Dayton Daily News (http://bit.ly/1niH4rZ ) reports that some cards are legitimately damaged or lost to thieves. But some people sell or trade their cards on the streets or online for money or drugs.

State and federal agencies pledged to crack down on food stamp fraud by more closely monitoring card replacement requests, especially when they are getting repeated requests. Authorities say stricter federal rules on replacement cards have helped identify misuse as well as those who are having problems managing their accounts.

"Counties are doing a great job investigating the households that (Ohio) flags," said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. "That casework has likely contributed to the reduction in replacement cards."

People lose their EBT cards for a variety of reasons -- theft, falling out of purses or wallets, losing their wallets and purses. And sometimes they get damaged and are inoperable.

Johnson said in 90 percent of the cases flagged, county investigators don't find any fraudulent activity.

But authorities are vigilant for suspicious activity at retailers and sometimes find crime suspects carrying food stamp cards that don't belong to them. Dayton police, for example, last year said they arrested a burglary suspect with $100 he said he got from selling his girlfriend's food stamp card that carried $243 in benefits. Police said the man told them he needed cash for heroin.

The Ohio Investigative Unit has found clerks and other store employees engaging in illegal trafficking, and in possession of other people's food stamp cards.

"That's common," said Harold Torrens, the unit's Cincinnati district agent in charge. "We'll find multiple cards at the retailer or home or wherever we do a search warrant."

Some benefit-trafficking operations are big and sophisticated, investigators say.

"The victims are taxpayers who are funding this program with taxpayer dollars," Torrens said.

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Information from: Dayton Daily News, http://www.daytondailynews.com