DCF to ask security questions to prevent food stamp fraud

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ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates first exposed people abusing the food stamp system by collecting benefits issued to dead relatives in November.

Monday, the Department of Children and Families announced it is taking action to stop that from happening and making sure food stamps are issued to the people who really need them.

WFTV asked the agency what else it plans to do to cut down on the trafficking of food stamps and punish the people who are abusing the system.

"If you commit the fraud, we will find you and we will prosecute you," said DCF secretary David Wilkins.

DCF said Monday it will start requiring anyone who applies for food stamps online to answer a series of personal security questions, similar to what banks and credit card companies have used for years, like asking a mother's maiden name or the name of a first pet.

Florida is the first state in the nation to implement the extra security questions.

"It starts at the front end, preventing people from even being able to get the benefits in the first place," said Suzanne Vitale with DCF.

The pilot program started in central Florida five weeks ago and has already uncovered $210,000 in fraud.

Earlier in May, Channel 9 ran a story showing undercover video of people selling their food stamp cards for cash, raising questions about a plan to crack down on that scam.

Channel 9 asked Vitale what the agency is doing to stop people from buying and selling food stamps.

"There's a number of things going on. We do data analytics and check what's going on with multiple card replacements or changing (the) PIN multiple times … and a lot of other things I don't want to go over," Vitale said.

The agency did say it supports stiffer penalties and believes the new security tools will make sure food stamps go to the people who really need them.

DCF said fighting public assistance fraud is one of its top priorities.

While security questions are common in the private sector, Florida had to get a waiver from the federal government to do so.

It is possible other states are going to ask if they can do the same and beef up their security as well.