9 Investigates changes made to crack down on food stamp fraud

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CENTRAL FLORIDA - 9 Investigates uncovered millions of dollars in food stamp fraud, and Wednesday, the state is making major changes to crack down on the problem.

The Department of Children and Families announced that a new vendor will oversee the program.

WFTV anchor Vanessa Welch has been investigating fraud within the food stamp program for more than six months.

WFTV found out the new company expected to save taxpayers $21 million during the next three years because the new vendor is charging the state less money to process food stamp cards and transactions.

The state said it can take the extra money and reinvest in fraud prevention programs.

Viewers were outraged when WFTV showed video of a woman swiping multiple stolen food stamp cards at a Sam's Club.

Police said she bought the cards for pennies on the dollar, and then used them to stock her Daytona Beach business. The woman recently took a plea deal and is awaiting sentencing.

9 Investigates also uncovered the state was issuing food stamps to dead people, and people who were "double-dipping" by collecting benefits in nearby states.

The state is now using a series of security questions when people apply for food stamps online.

Also, a new vendor called E-Funds is about the start distributing food stamps.

The company has its own fraud detection team that will scrutinize transactions and look for suspicious trends.

"(We will have) better red flags. We will be tracking potential suspect transactions and be able to respond better," said Carrie Hoeppner, DCF.

As the state makes changes, lawmaker Andy Gardiner is also working on legislation that would increase the penalties for people who abuse the system.

Gardiner said he plans to use our 9 Investigates reports to get his bill passed.

"My colleges will see this tape because we will be glad to show it to them in Tallahassee. I think you will see us make some changes pretty quickly," said Gardiner in a May 2013 interview.

Gardiner said he plans to file the legislation before the new session begins in March.

The vendor change will happen Monday night, so the system will be down for about 24 hours, which could cause some delays in benefits.

Therefore, DCF said it plans to issue food stamps early this week so needy families hopefully won't be affected.