Facial recognition tool used to expose 155 cases of welfare fraud

Department of Social Protection attributes savings of €461,470 to software system

Sample Public Services Card: recipients’   photographs   are analysed to the  facial imaging system to check for duplication of claims. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Sample Public Services Card: recipients’ photographs are analysed to the facial imaging system to check for duplication of claims. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The €280,000 welfare fraud perpetrated by Adrian Vaduva is believed to be one of the largest yet detected by the Department of Social Protection’s Cogent Facial Imaging Matching Software, which was introduced in 2015.

By the end of January, 155 cases of suspected fraud discovered using the system had been referred to the department’s Special Investigations Unit and An Garda Síochána.

The department says that fraud overpayments totalling €1,590,500 have been or are being assessed in those cases while recorded savings from the cessation of related social welfare payments come to €461,470.

The system uses photographs taken of social welfare recipients to detect any cases of people claiming payments using more than one identity.

Under the department’s Public Services Card scheme, recipients are invited into department offices to have their photographs taken for a new card, so the facial imaging system is used to ensure that “multiple or fraudulent identities can be identified at the point of registration,” a spokeswoman said.

This is what happened in the case of Vaduva, whose photograph taken in 2015 under his Eduard Preda alias was fed into the department’s database and matched to one taken in June of 2016 under his real name.

Of the 155 cases identified to date, 22 were finalised in court, 17 of which led to custodial sentences. Another 18 are currently the subject of formal legal proceedings initiated by the DPP, while 100 more are still under investigation at various levels.

About 20 gardaí­ have been seconded to Department of Social Protection offices around the country to investigate such cases, and other types of social welfare fraud.