When the USDA investigates a pattern of EBT transactions that are flagged for possible fraud or trafficking, the USDA does a thorough investigation of the store. They make field visits, review inventory, review data and compare that to the look and feel of the store. The question they are asking themselves, is “CAN A STORE THAT LOOKS LIKE THIS SUPPORT THESE EBT TRANSACTIONS?”
In these cases, the USDA weighs the totality of the look and feel of the store to see whether it can support the EBT transaction history. If it cannot, then they consider this to be a slam dunk case where the store is committing trafficking, and they do not need actual proof of the trafficking instances.
The USDA considers the following factors when evaluating a Retailer’s business
– store size
– number of entrances
– number of exits
– number of cash registers
– presence of shopping carts
– presence of shopping baskets
– size of counter space
– presence of conveyor belt
– merchandize assortment
– availability of staple food items
– availability of fresh foods
– availability of ethnic foods
-availability of fresh produce
-availability of frozen food
– whether the majority of the food items are snacks and beverages
– whether the store honors package deals or bulk packs
– high priced food items
The USDA will look at a store’s EBT transaction history with large transaction amounts and wonder whether such high transaction amounts make sense. For example, if the store has minimal counter space, and no shopping baskets or shopping carts, then how can they regularly have high dollar amount transactions when the shopper can’t even accumulate the items on the counter? The USDA will assume that the EBT transactions are being manipulated to cover up trafficking in these instances.
Does the store’s food selection consist of mostly “Minimal Food Inventory?”
The USDA considers a minimal food inventory to be inconsistent with high transaction amounts or high transaction frequencies. A minimal food inventory is a food selection which is comprised mostly of inexpensive canned good, inexpensive packaged goods, a small variety of canned fruit and vegetables, soups, cereals, pasta, flour, loaf bread, snack food items, cookies, crackers, chips and salty snacks. Accessory food items include: carbonated beverages, flavored drinks, candy, gum, condiments, hot sauce, hot chocolate mix, pickles, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, pancake syrup, coffee, tea, canned broth, salad dressing, sugar and sweeteners.
When reviewing a store’s EBT transactions in light of evidence of trafficking, the USDA examines whether there is a particular draw to the store that is making customers choose to shop with this Retailer over other stores. They consider whether the store sells unique ethnic food items, offers lower prices, offers bulk pricing, special services, custom packages or other.
The USDA reviews the quantity and quality of SNAP retailers within a given area and run data on the types of business that these stores do. When investigating a store for trafficking, the USDA will list the other SNAP retailers within the area, and compare the store’s transactions with the other stores’ transactions. The USDA will compare the average transaction amount with other stores’ averages, and with the state average. If the store in question has a higher than average transaction amount, then that is considered by the USDA to be suspicious and potentially an indicator of trafficking. If there is no logical reason to support one store having a higher EBT transaction average than other stores, then the USDA will suspect that the transaction history is altered to cover up trafficking.