AUBURN — Getting arrested in a growing number of Maine counties, including Androscoggin and Oxford, now includes a check of EBT cards.

Since last fall, the jails have discovered dozens of the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards in the possession of arrestees but issued to someone else.

The state uses the cards to disburse welfare money, but the cards and their use have become the focus of increasing scrutiny by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.

The Androscoggin County Jail has been tracking possession of the cards with all incoming inmates since early November, Sheriff Guy Desjardins said Monday.

Among the roughly 1,700 bookings at the jail since November, 143 individuals had the debit-like cards on them when they arrived at the jail, Desjardins said. Of those, 35 or 36 were issued in someone else’s name.

The cards were examined along with all other valuables being carried by new inmates. Money, cellphones, credit cards and other items are locked up until an inmate is released, said Jeff Chute, the Auburn jail’s assistant administrator.

Similar checks are happening at the Cumberland, York and Oxford county jails.

Capt. Edward Quinn, administrator of the Oxford County Jail in Paris, said his staff began the checks shortly after Androscoggin County. For several months, no cases were spotted, he said.

However, three cards owned by people other than the arrestee were discovered there in the past four weeks, he said.

In each case, the cards were handed over to investigators with the state Department of Health and Human Services for further examination.

A statewide total on the number of cards was unavailable Monday.

However, law enforcement often recovers EBT cards in arrests and offers information to the state, said John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our fraud staff works closely with all law enforcement officials across the state and has strong working relationships with them,” Martins said.

State investigators are looking at the illegal market for cards, in which the cards and their accompanying personal ID numbers are sold in exchange for drugs.

State analysts are also looking at how much Maine EBT money is being spent outside of Maine. In 2013, an estimated $13.9 million in Maine-funded transactions occurred outside of the state, DHHS officials said last week.

The issue detected at the jails is much smaller in scale.

“There’s no question that we’re getting the cards off the street,” Sheriff Desjardins said. The numbers are relatively small, though. “It’s not overly concerning to me.”

Chute said he was surprised that the numbers they’ve discovered are not bigger. However, he thinks the card check is a valuable part of the intake process.

“Even stopping one card is a good thing,” he said.

Similarly, the jail has also changed the settings on its ATM machine, which was installed in its lobby to make it possible for people to get bail money during booking, using a credit or debit card.

Last year, the machine’s settings were changed to prevent the use of EBT cards, lest someone bail themselves from jail using welfare money.

“I don’t know if it was ever used that way before,” Chute said. “But it won’t happen moving forward.”

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