IN DEPTH: WIC Fraud and Safeguards

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- We wanted to take a closer look at the WIC program and how two parents from Mason County, West Virginia, could get refunds on baby formula repeatedly.

Meanwhile, State Police said the pair fed their baby regular milk, until he finally died from malnutrition last March.

West Virginia WIC program directors said the rules are clear: refunds aren't allowed.

But the line is blurred when it comes to policing individual store refund policies.

At some stores, you can return most merchandise that is less than $25 without a receipt.

WIC administrators said cracking down on fraud can be tough. It depends on what information they receive and what can be proven.

Buying formula is a part of any new parent's grocery list.

The WIC program is set up to help families in need, providing credit for certain formulas and healthy foods.

"They come in for appointments, and they are based eligible based on their residency and their income and having a nutrition risk," said Office of Nutrition Services Director Cindy Pillo.

WIC comes on an EBT card, much like a credit card. Caretakers must sign an agreement to show they understand the rules.

"They are not allowed to sell, trade, WIC food formula purchase with eWIC benefits," she said.

If formula needs returned, it must be done at their WIC office.

But somehow, troopers said a couple from Mason County returned the formula at the store and got cash for drugs.

They fed the baby whole milk instead. Investigators said the malnutrition killed him.

"Some stores have policies that you must have a receipt returning formula, it depends on the store's policies," Pillo said.

But if the store didn't require a receipt, telling the difference between a cash or WIC purchase is tough.

We asked directors if it would be difficult to determine if stores were refunding money to people for WIC merchandise.

"It depends on what information we receive on what we can prove," Pillo said.

In the last two years, they've picked up on 29 cases of fraud in West Virginia.

"I don't know at this point what stores will do, I can't speak for them or their corporate offices," Pillo said.

But if any change is to happen with WIC rules, West Virginia directors said those changes have to happen at the federal level.

WIC directors said they investigate any reports of fraud.

WSAZ.com reached out to the stores State Police said gave the refund. One store returned our calls and said they report any suspicious activity to WIC.

They also said they make a lot of refunds for different merchandise, without a receipt, so it is tough to police.

One WIC worker tells WSAZ.com, they also have regular visits with families to keep an eye out for fraud.

WIC administrators said stores found to be violating rules and regulations of the program can be suspended from WIC for a year.


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