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The Associated Press November 19, 2011, 4:11PM ET

USDA targets stores in food stamp trafficking

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is upgrading technology used to combat a swindle of the nation's $64.7 billion food stamp program that diverts as much as $330 million annually.

The agency last month awarded a 10-year contract worth up to $25 million to a Fairfax, Va. company, SRA International Inc., to improve monitoring of electronic food stamp transactions. In all, 45 million people use the stamps to buy food from 234,000 retailers.

The goal is to decrease food stamp trafficking, where retailers trade customers lesser amounts of cash for stamps. Authorities say the stamps are then redeemed as usual by merchants at face value, netting them huge profits.

The practice is a federal criminal offense. Authorities say the crime has brought 597 convictions nationwide and recovery of $197.4 million since 2008.

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