Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  It’s always darkest before the dawn.  These are slogans we typically refer to when we are about to undertake some major initiative like putting a stop to fraud.  Sometimes the battle seems hard, and we even question whether the struggle is worth the ultimate reward.  When it comes to fighting public assistance fraud, Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) is definitely up for a fight, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel.

Florida, like many states, has had had its share of fraudsters trying to bilk the coffers of public assistance programs.  That ends now.  (You hear that fraudsters?  It’s time to buy a ticket on the money train because the free ride is OVER.)  The article reports that Florida DCF has partnered with LexisNexis (full disclosure:  they sign my paycheck) to incorporate an identity management solution into its public assistance programs.  From now on an individual who applies online through DCF for Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits will have his or her identity authenticated and verified before the individual’s application is even reviewed to determine whether he or she is eligible for benefits.  The “online” part is critical because 90 percent of all Medicaid, TANF and SNAP benefit applications in Florida are processed online.

So, what does this all mean for taxpayers?  Florida DCF is going to make sure everyone who applies for benefits is who they say they are.  (This is the same approach that banks and other financial institutions have been taking for quite some time.) Florida is definitely ahead of the curve in fighting fraud with this new technology.  But, don’t take my word for it.  DCF Deputy Secretary Suzanne Vitale was quoted as saying:  “Nobody else in the government sector is doing this yet.” (All the more reason for other government agencies to implement these preventative solutions and crack down on fraud nationwide.) So far, the new technology has been implemented in a few pilot counties.  The article notes that the solution is scheduled to be rolled out throughout the rest of the state.

The pilot program found that the technology was able to catch three times the amount of fraud as the traditional labor-intensive, manual approach by leveraging the Knowledge Based Authentication (KBA) solution.  KBA is basically a process where the applicant is asked personal questions that a fraudster would not have answers to.  These questions are often called “out of wallet” questions, meaning that someone would not be able to guess the answers even if they were looking at your wallet.

Want to hear more good news?  The pilot program resulted in virtually no complaints. (Fraudsters don’t want to call attention to themselves, so they don’t complain.  They just realize they have met their match and give up.)  Individuals who do experience trouble with system are able to continue their applications via phone calls or in person, making it much harder to defraud the system.  This is one of the most difficult battles faced by states and the federal government.   As more public assistance programs – and other government programs – are processed online, it is increasingly easier for fraudsters to hide behind stolen or synthetic identities.  But, all that is changing in Florida as DCF takes advantage of this new technology.  Public assistance fraudster should take note:  the sunny days of fraud are over in Florida; there are dark days ahead for anyone trying to rip off taxpayers.

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