Headlines: December 1st, 2005

A local authority in Yorkshire is seeing the results of turning to a high-tech solution to combat the growing problem of benefit fraud. East Riding Council has adopted an SMS text messaging system that allows local people to report those they suspect of fraud.The ‘Text a Fraud’ service has been produced by Dialogue Communications, an international company specialising in using text messaging and mobile multimedia. The system is being used by East Riding’s Fraud Investigation Unit and allows members of the public who wish to remain anonymous to text the authority when they suspect benefit fraud is being committed.

The system is based on Community Text, which is designed for any company or organisation that wants to use mobile messaging as a direct link to its customers. The portal allows mobile messaging campaigns to be set up quickly and easily and ensures their effectiveness. The online service collates a high capacity of mobile data giving its users the opportunity to identify and respond to its customers.

The East Riding system has been in place since April but has already achieved some significant results. The Fraud Investigations Unit has reported a 10 per cent increase in referrals over the past six months and as a result has helped identify more than 435,000 pounds of fraudulently claimed benefit.

Fraud Investigation Manager Andrew Hardy said, “We do have several lines of communication in place, such as a benefit hotline and an email system but this new SMS service has made a huge impact.” The council, he said, was continually looking for new ways to encourage people to report suspected fraud in confidence and the new system was an alternative form which seemed to be working.

“Since April we have had over 500 referrals, with 10 per cent of those coming from text. We have made 32 formal cautions, 93 administrative penalties and prosecuted 27 individuals for benefit fraud,” he said.

Paul Griffiths, Dialogue Communications’ Managing Director said recent news reports had highlighted the need for more measures to combat benefit fraud and East Riding Council had taken the initiative and looked to new technology to help its community.