The Photoshop FAILS fuelling £8.5BN benefits scam: How fraudsters are sending faked images to DWP officials in bid to keep the money flowing in
- The number of fraudulent claims increased massively during the pandemic
- Crude photoshopped images show people pretending to stand outside doors
- One gang was jailed for a scam using claims in the names of 188 fake children
A series of photoshop fails have fueled an £8.5 billion benefits scam as fraudsters are sending faked images to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a bid to make money.
One man was asked to take a photograph of himself by his front door after the DWP became suspicious that he was claiming benefits in the UK while living abroad.
After receiving the picture, it was clear he had been crudely photoshopped into the scene.
Alongside a fairly obvious digital cutout around his outline, a Google Street View camera was visible in the reflection of the car outside.
But this image is just one example of the thousands of counterfeit documents that flooded into the DWP during the pandemic, as fraud flew out of control.
Some photographs sent to the DWP are clearly doctored, as people claimed benefits in the UK while living abroad
People crudely photoshopped themselves into the scene in order to claim the benefits
The Times was given exclusive access to the DWP’s counterfraud regional office in Newcastle, where digital forensic analysts and investigators combat bogus claims, reaching £8.5 billion last year.
The number of people needing support through benefits increased massively when the pandemic first hit the UK, but so did the number of fraudulent claims – partly driven by gangs seeking to exploit a relaxation of the rules on applications.
The DWP swiftly set up an enhanced review team, staffed by 1,000 employees in seven regional offices to investigate suspicious activity. This successfully managed to block tens of thousands of claims, according to The Times.
Approximately 172,000 applications that appeared fraudulent were automatically suspended – with the claimants invited to interview to prove their innocence. These claims were equivalent to £2 billion.
The number of people needing support through benefits increased massively when the pandemic first hit the UK, but so did the number of fraudulent claims
However, claims for applicants who were considered vulnerable were not blocked.
Staff at the Counter Fraud, Compliance and Debt Directorate said that weeding out photoshopped images had played a significant part in saving taxpayer’s money.
One anonymous member of the analyst team said: ‘During the last two years the tram have received thousands of manipulated and constructed documents to try and pursue claims whilst being abroad.
‘Skilled fraud officers can quickly detect and prevent and repair any fraud area that’s emerging and they have to be much more experienced looking at these fraud trends.’
In one example of fraud, analysts noticed that the same lime green door appeared in photos offered by a number of claimants seeking to prove that they lived in the UK.
In November, the Commons public accounts committee published a critical report on the government’s response to fraud, saying there was no clear plan to deal with ‘unacceptably high’ levels of false claims.
Ali Bana Mohamed, pictured, led a gang of six that submitted bogus child benefit claims
It comes as the DWP recently received a cash injection of £500 million, which will fund 2,000 specialists that it claims will generate £2 billion of savings.
A senior leader of the enhanced review team said: ‘A lot of these hijacked identities are people that are in very high-paid jobs, maybe inadvertently advertising on LinkedIn.’
Another citizen leader said: ‘It’s essential that we do get the decision right because there’s a genuine citizen at the end who could be having their identity exploited for financial gain.’
In March a gang of six was jailed for for a scam using claims in the names of 188 made up children.
Suspicions were aroused when when the tax office spotted that the same two phone numbers were were calling the tax credit claims call centre in connection with apparently unrelated claims.
The leader, Ali Bana Mohamed, was jailed for three and a half years after enlisting relatives and others to summit bogus child benefit claims in about 70 different names.