Bureau of Fraud Prevention and Prosecution
Bureau of Fraud Prevention and Prosecution (BFPP) is responsible for conducting
investigations into suspected public benefits fraud and abuse as well as
performing collection activities for public benefit programs administered by
the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). BFPP is present throughout Pennsylvania based
in four regional offices and headquarters office, which work in partnership
with DHS County Assistance and District Offices to ensure that public benefits
are distributed fairly and equitably. DHS
benefit programs investigated by BFPP include: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food
Stamps), Cash Assistance, Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program
(LIHEAP), Medical Assistance (including Nursing Facility/Long Term Care),
and Subsidized Child Care.
Public Benefits Fraud Detection and
Field Investigation Program
The mission of the Field Investigation Program is to
detect and prevent public benefits fraud by conducting investigations on
applicants and recipients of public benefits to ensure the integrity of DHS
does this occur?
in the Field Investigation Program can be initiated by DHS, the citizens of
Pennsylvania, or through BFPP’s own processes. These referrals identify an
applicant or recipient of public benefits who are suspected of providing
inaccurate, inconsistent, or incomplete information to DHS. Persons receiving public benefits must
disclose true and correct information regarding income, resources, residence,
and household composition to DHS in order to accurately determine eligibility
for public benefits. Individuals who
apply for or who are receiving public benefits are informed by DHS that the OIG
can investigate their circumstances to ensure correctness.
purpose of the field investigations performed by BFPP is to correctly determine
the circumstances of the individual applying for or receiving public benefits. Once the investigation is completed, BFPP
will provide the results to the DHS caseworker, who then uses the information
provided to determine the individual’s eligibility for DHS benefit programs. The caseworker determines whether to
authorize the individual for benefits, reduce the amount of benefits the
individual is eligible for, or deny benefits to the individual.
is this important to the citizens of Pennsylvania?
Field Investigation Program is a system of checks and balances that helps
ensure the integrity of public benefits programs in Pennsylvania. Its efforts yield millions of dollars in cost
savings annually to DHS and the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Fraud Investigation Program
BFPP operates its Fraud
Investigation Program with the mission of investigating and prosecuting individuals who fraudulently received public benefits to
which they were not entitled.
Pennsylvania law prohibits the fraudulent receipt of benefits and individuals
who commit public benefits fraud face criminal charges, costs and fines, mandatory
restitution of the illegally received public funds, and disqualification from
receiving future benefits.
What is public benefits (“welfare”) fraud?
Individuals receiving public benefits must provide true
and correct information regarding income, resources, residence, and household
composition to DHS. Welfare fraud occurs
An individual provides false information about their circumstances or fails to report a change in those circumstances. The individual failed to provide true and correct information to DHS with the intention of receiving benefits they wouldn’t have been entitled to had DHS known their true circumstances. An individual is also guilty of welfare fraud if they aid or abet another person who receives benefits through fraudulent means.
How is welfare fraud discovered?
Welfare fraud can be discovered in many
different ways, which can include:
Tips received from Pennsylvania citizens that uncover individual(s) committing public benefits fraud. DHS computer system matches, which can identify unreported information, such as employment. BFPP Field Investigations which uncover information that was not reported to DHS and resulted in public benefits fraud.
When DHS receives information that a public
benefits recipient failed to report information that affected their past
eligibility for benefits, a DHS caseworker will calculate the amount of
overpaid benefits received by the individual and forward that information to
BFPP for investigation. BFPP staff will
conduct an investigation to determine if the individual in question in fact
committed welfare fraud. If welfare
fraud occurred, BFPP staff will work with the local district attorney to file
criminal charges of public benefits fraud against the individual. Once welfare fraud charges are filed, the
case will move through the Commonwealth’s court system.
Why is this important to the citizens of
The prosecution of welfare fraud in Pennsylvania serves
Ensuring that individuals who commit these acts are held accountable and that fraudulently received benefits are repaid to the Commonwealth,
- Ensuring program integrity in DHS benefit programs,
- Providing a deterrent to individuals who may consider committing welfare fraud cases where individual are found guilty of committing criminal welfare fraud are publicized,
- Disqualifying individuals convicted of welfare fraud from receiving future benefits for a period of time, up to a permanent disqualification, which saves the Commonwealth additional expenditures,
- Recovering millions of dollars annually of public funds.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Trafficking Unit
is SNAP Trafficking?
SNAP Trafficking occurs when SNAP benefits
(formerly known as Food Stamps) are illegally exchanged for cash, services, or
anything other than food. For example, a store owner may give a SNAP recipient
cash at a percentage of their balance in SNAP benefits, or exchange SNAP
benefits for drugs or other non-allowable goods such as cigarettes. BFPP operates its SNAP Trafficking Unit with
the mission of investigating instances of this type of fraud when it occurs in
Pennsylvania. This unit works with the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) and with
the USDA Office of Inspector General to investigate cases of SNAP
The official definition of SNAP
Trafficking is: (1) The buying, selling, stealing, or otherwise effecting an
exchange of SNAP benefits issued and accessed via Electronic Benefit Transfer
(EBT) cards, card numbers and personal identification numbers (PINs), or by
manual voucher and signature, for cash or consideration other than eligible
food, either directly, indirectly, in complicity or collusion with others, or
acting alone; (2) The exchange of firearms, ammunition, explosives, or
controlled substances, as defined in section 802 of title 21, United (3)
Purchasing a product with SNAP benefits that has a container requiring a return
deposit with the intent of obtaining cash by discarding the product and
returning the container for the deposit amount, intentionally discarding the
product, and intentionally returning the container for the deposit amount; (4)
Purchasing a product with SNAP benefits with the intent of obtaining cash or
consideration other than eligible food by reselling the product, and
subsequently intentionally reselling the product purchased with SNAP benefits
in exchange for cash or consideration other than eligible food; or (5)
Intentionally purchasing products originally purchased with SNAP benefits in
exchange for cash or consideration other than eligible food.
How does BFPP investigate this?
BFPP’s SNAP Trafficking Unit conducts SNAP
Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card trafficking investigations of both
store owners and SNAP recipients. Store
owners will be disqualified from participating as a SNAP approved vendor and
recipients who are found to have trafficked their SNAP benefits must repay
those benefits and are disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits.
Why is this important to the citizens of
SNAP Trafficking is happening in big cities
and small towns alike throughout the Commonwealth. Through the concerted efforts of the federal
government and the Pennsylvania OIG, individuals who engage in SNAP Trafficking
are being held accountable.
Penalties can include:
- Federal or state criminal charges,
- Lifetime disqualifications from receiving SNAP benefits,
- Mandatory repayment of trafficked benefits,
- The store owner’s disqualification from participation in SNAP.
Further, SNAP Trafficking is not always a stand-alone crime. Often these stores
are also dealing in illegal drugs which further pollute communities. SNAP Trafficking undermines the true purpose
of the program, which is to feed impoverished families.
are prosecuted for public benefits fraud will be ordered to make restitution to
the OIG. However, not all overpayments
referred to the OIG meet the elements of welfare fraud. Regulations state that all incorrectly paid
benefits, regardless of whether or not fraud occurred, must be repaid to the Commonwealth. All DHS overpayments are collected by the
OIG. The OIG uses the following methods
to collect all overpaid benefits:
- Recoupment – this occurs when an individual or their household is currently receiving public assistance. The amount of their monthly benefit is reduced to repay the overpayment.
- Repayment – an individual makes a direct payment to the OIG to repay their overpayment.
- Third Party Debt Collection – through the Office of Attorney General, all delinquent, non-SNAP debts are forwarded through a tiered private collection process to effect repayment of monies owed to the Commonwealth.
- Treasury Offset Program (TOP) – this option is available on SNAP overpayment claims. Individuals who have not made a payment for at least 180 days and have a claim balance of $25 or more can be entered into TOP. Once in this program, the individual’s federal income tax refund, as well as other forms of federal income, can be intercepted to repay the balance of their claim.
collections program run by the OIG is the Reimbursement Program. Individuals who are awaiting the receipt of
other benefits, such as unemployment compensation or Supplemental Security
Income, may be found eligible to receive cash assistance pending approval of
these other benefits. Once the
individual receives their benefits, they are required to reimburse the Commonwealth
for the cash assistance they received from DHS.