NORWAY, Maine — A welfare scam known as “water dumping” is abusing taxpayer dollars and making its way across Maine.
Authorities said some people are using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits on their electronic benefit transfer cards to buy big cases of water bottles, only to dump them all out and redeem the bottles for five cents a piece.
A case of 24 bottles results in about $1.20 at a redemption center, but several cases can add up fast.
“Then [they’re] able to use those funds there to go out and buy items not authorized by the EBT,” said Norway police Detective Gary Hill.
Hill said he’s investigating his first case of water dumping.
“Well, we had this one incident reported to us, and it was a tip given to us,” he said.
Hill said a witness took video with his cellphone of two people buying water at a local store, then immediately getting cash for it at a redemption center.
Hill worked with fraud investigators at the Department of Health and Human Services to track the suspect’s EBT transactions. He wants to charge the cardholder and maybe even the person who was with them.
“Well, they’re obviously stealing money that rightfully is belonging to people that could use these benefits,” said Hill.
DHHS spokesman David Sorensen said the scam is statewide and more often involves glass milk jugs that have a $2.50 deposit.
If convicted, Sorensen said a cardholder can face up to a year in jail, $2,000 in fines and lose their SNAP benefits.
“I am proud of DHHS’s fraud investigation team for their work with the Norway Police Department in referring this case for prosecution, and we look forward to a just outcome,” DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement released to CBS 13. “The LePage administration is aggressively pursuing welfare fraud every day, and we will continue to look out for taxpayers to ensure that benefits only go to those who truly need them and use them as intended.”
Hill plans to meet with the Oxford County district attorney’s office to talk about charges. He hopes it will deter others from committing the same crime.