Public assistance fraud is a third-degree felony that, in recent years, is being charged more frequently.
Public assistance fraud pertains to any fraud involved in applications for food stamps, child care credits, welfare, or other forms of public assistance.
Most commonly, public assistance fraud begins as an investigation. Department of Children and Families (DCF), for instance, will periodically run background checks on public assistance recipients. DCF will check to see whether there are any tax or employment records for these recipients. If the recipient is receiving benefits and has failed to disclose income or employment, a criminal investigation begins.
A DCF employee may go out to the home of the recipient to talk. Remember - this DCF employee is a government agent and you do not have to speak with them! Most people will get scared and will confess to the DCF employee that yes, they were not disclosing a job on their food stamp application, or that they had earned a raise at work that would render them ineligible for benefits yet they failed to report it.
Fraud requires intent to defraud. A mistake is not fraud. But by telling the DCF worker that you have committed fraud by intentionally failing to make an honest disclosure, you are confessing to a crime.
Once DCF completes their investigation, they will make a finding as to whether criminal charges should be filed. If so, then a law enforcement agency or the State Attorney's Office will pick up the investigation and decide whether to arrest or file criminal charges.
If you are looking to retain a criminal attorney, you should do so immediately upon learning that there is an open investigation. This could prevent you from making the mistake of speaking with a DCF employee and possibly incriminating yourself.