The Department of Human Services has opened a new digital forensics laboratory and expanded its use of data-matching as it ramps up efforts to stop criminals defrauding the welfare and Medicare systems.
Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert says staff at the “scientific, technically advanced and secure facility” in Brisbane will support “efforts to disrupt organised criminal activity” by analysing digital evidence of fraud, much as a similar facility in Canberra has been doing since 2015.
The Canberra digital forensics lab has looked into about 50 cases and analysed several hundred seized devices since then, according to Robert. This is a small fraction of the caseload of the wider departmental fraud squad, which looked into more than 3,300 cases of possible criminality in 2018-19.
“Fraud has become increasingly complex, with fraudsters exploiting technological advances to commit crimes,” the minister said.
The forensic facilities support the government’s ongoing welfare integrity crackdown, which turned its focus to “serious non-compliance and criminal activity” last month, and aid investigations by other agencies like the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Australian Federal Police.
The minister says the DHS lab in Canberra has contributed to “numerous positive prosecution outcomes” like that of Victorian man Mohamed Osman Omar, who was sentenced to four years imprisonment in July for rorting more than $400,000 from the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“The Government is more serious than ever about stamping out welfare fraud, with close to 1,000 cases reviewed in just the past two months.”
In another case the minister says a person deliberately failed to declare about $145,000 of income to DHS and later pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining a financial advantage. They were sentenced to imprisonment and ordered to pay $65,000 back to the Commonwealth.
New Medicare data-matching program also targets fraud
The announcement follows a public gazette notice from DHS explaining the fine details of its latest foray into data-matching, which is also aimed at fraud prevention.
The department hopes to identify people whose welfare and healthcare histories suggest “a high likelihood of fraudulent behaviour” because key events don’t seem to match up.
“The purpose of this activity is to discover individuals who are not recorded as having experienced a series of expected ‘life events’ across both programs. Where expected life events have not occurred this may highlight high-risk identities and the need for further analysis to determine possible fraudulent behaviour and/or record correctness.”
Matching of Medicare and Centrelink data has occurred in the past on a more reactive, ad-hoc basis. The new program aims to generate more leads for the department’s fraud prevention squad to follow up, as they normally would with tip-offs from the public or reports from suspicious staff members.
The department says a secondary benefit will be in cleaning up its databases when people flagged as “high-risk identities” turn out to have done nothing wrong.
If there is evidence of non-compliance but not of intentional fraud, the new data-matching system might still lead to “corrective treatment” including the reduction, suspension or cancellation of benefits, or debt recovery action.
Between 2013 and 2018, “the use and matching of Medicare data to detect cases of identity fraud” has led to DHS saving over $5 million in cancelled payments and debts, according to the public notice.
“The data-matching program is designed to detect false, manipulated and assumed identities used by customers in submitting multiple claims. It is also designed to detect false information provided by customers relating to employment, medical eligibility and relationship circumstances.
The department also promises to evaluate this program every three years and publish the findings via the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.