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EBT for Crack Crackdown

It’s called the Quest Card, a scannable electronic debit card that can be used by eligible Wisconsin residents to pay for food and other items. The card is funded under the Electronic Benefits Transfer Program and functions just like a credit card at point of purchase. It cannot be used to withdraw cash, just to pay for things like groceries. Unfortunately, the crooks have found a way around the system, as evidenced by a recent bust.

The Alberta Lea Tribune reported earlier this month on a ring that accepted Quest cards – for crack. Thirty people were arrested after a nine-month investigation, dubbed, with some humor, “Operation Crackdown.”

But there’s nothing funny about scamming people out of their EBT benefits. Those with cards would either go shopping with the drug dealer and exchange purchased items for crack, or the cards would be given to the dealers outright, with a reported conversion rate of 50 percent. That means a $100 dollar balance would “qualify” for $50 worth of crack.

Such schemes to convert benefits into drugs aren’t unknown and are one of the reasons why some legislators would like to see drug testing for those in social welfare programs. With 30 arrests in the scheme in Duluth and Superior in this one investigation, it does appear that the practice is wide-spread. But it requires more than just a willing addict and dealer. To really make it work, a drug seller has to be able to get cash. Groceries aren’t as useful a medium of exchange. To get cash, a drug dealer will arrange with a business owner (someone authorized to take payments) and have them scan the card for a fictitious purchase and give the dealer some percentage.

For example, the drug dealer would bring in a stack of Quest cards they’ve taken in payment for crack. The store owner (or employee) then runs the cards for some amount, keeps the funds from the EBT “sale” and hands over cash to the crook.

The names and photos of all thirty arrested can be found here.

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