A man has been arrested and charged after he allegedly redirected the welfare payments of other people to his own bank accounts, Services Australia and the Australian Federal Police have revealed.
In a joint statement on Thursday the agencies alleged the 33-year-old Sydney man stole personal information in order to access Centrelink records and change the payment destinations into a bank account he controlled.
“It will be further alleged the man had attempted to access the Centrelink records of several other people and contacted Services Australia while impersonating other people in order to gain access to their accounts and alter payment destinations,” they said.
Services Australia referred the matter to the AFP after detecting the suspected fraudulent activity. Investigators from Taskforce Iris then seized a number of electronic items and files allegedly containing the personal details of victims.
The fraud value has been estimated to be more than $14,000.
The man appeared before Parramatta Local Court on Thursday charged with two counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception. He was also charged with possessing suspected proceeds of crime, dishonestly influencing a commonwealth public official, and possessing identification information with intent to commit or facilitate an offence.
Investigations are ongoing and further charges have not been ruled out.
Taskforce Iris head and deputy commissioner Brett Pointing said that to see someone try to take advantage of the government’s welfare program during COVID-19, when many people have needed financial support, was “deeply disturbing”.
“We will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that fraud against commonwealth systems aimed at supporting Australians in their time of need, is identified quickly and any offender is arrested and charged,” he said.
“Taskforce Iris will continue to attack fraud committed against the COVID-19 stimulus package wherever it is detected, our aim is to shut these crimes down early and prevent the loss of taxpayer revenue from falling into the hands of criminals.”
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Services Australia has sophisticated fraud detection and investigation capabilities, agency general manager Hank Jongen warned.
“Anyone planning to defraud the system or our customers should think again. You will get caught,” he said.
“This case shows the strength of the collaboration between the AFP and Services Australia to detect, investigate and mitigate fraud.”
Over the last several years the agency has been redeveloping its welfare payment system due to the increasing risk of fraud, overpayments, failed and incorrect payments, and service disruptions.
On Thursday a new report from the Australian National Audit Office noted Services Australia has “largely appropriate” steps in place to manage risks to operating the current welfare payment system during the redevelopment, and to plan the transition to the future system.
However, the agency “did not apply an appropriate framework to manage cyber security risk, and did not monitor the cost of operating the system”, the audit found.
The overhaul is scheduled to be complete in 2022.