Government Says It 'Needs To Keep Up With The Times' And Monitor Welfare Recipients' Social Media

Yesterday it was revealed that State and Federal Government agencies are monitoring the social media and eBay accounts of Centrelink recipients, and using that data to prosecute fraud claims against them.

In response, The Department of Human Services has told Gizmodo it is "serious about protecting the integrity of Australia’s welfare system and conducts extensive compliance activity," and will "take action to ensure those who attempt to deceive the Department are caught and held to account."

"As technology changes, the Department’s fraud investigation methods need to keep up with the times," said Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen. "We have an obligation to the taxpayer to use all avenues available to us when we are investigating fraud."

In terms of how social media surveillance is used, it is an "information source which can be used to establish a lead or to substantiate evidence provided through other channels."

Despite contracts for "optical surveillance" for the department being revealed, Jongen stated that the department "does not contract private investigators or other external parties to monitor the social media and eBay accounts of Centrelink recipients."

Social media check are carried out on a "case-by-case basis" by "the department’s trained fraud investigation team."

For eBay users, Jongen says "This isn't about chasing people who go on eBay as a legitimate hobby or who occasionally sell personal items. The eBay data-matching program cross-checks Centrelink records against the details of 15,000 eBay users who have sold upwards of $20,000 worth of goods during the last financial year."

""Where markets such as eBay develop and become popular, the department establishes compliance programs to detect people who receive welfare payments without disclosing their true income."



    Seems that the government can provide modern day services when it comes to chasing fraud, but completely screw it up when it comes to answering customer calls,

    So they can see all of your posts, do you have to become friends with Centrelink on Facebook to receive your payments? If they are just using public posts then they will only see just the tip of the iceberg.

    Last edited 05/02/16 11:49 am

      Sometimes the tip of the iceberg is all you need.

      Saw an interesting article on the data retention laws a while back that might help. Someone put to Malcolm Turnbull that for most people it was trivial to deviate around the laws, and not get their actions collected.

      Turnbulls response was that the laws werent about the 99.9% that did that, but the 0.1% that didnt. One thread that can be pulled leads to another thread, then another, and another, and eventually the whole thing unravels.

      In this case, it might only take one transaction to raise the right questions, and lead to a systemic fraud setup that nets millions in fake benefits. Might not even be the seller, but the buyer - how can they afford a $1000 stereo on their reported incomes for example.

      The ATO is massive on the cash economy, and so is Centrelink these days. The amount of money at stake is incredible, and even being seen to be trying to do something about it might be enough to stop some from trying.

    "Despite contracts for “optical surveillance” ..."

    Must remember to stop rocking up to CentreLink in the Bentley, then?

      Probably. The Rolls should probably have its fuel cycled occasionally anyway to stop crud building up in the tank.

    As much as I agree to weeding out fraudulent people...sometimes it just feels like the government is looking everywhere it can for extra money without looking at big businesses possibly dodging tax, politicians abusing their privileges and being payed stupidly high amounts...

      The problem with big business is that if you chase them too hard, you just chase them out of the country and end up with nothing at all. The govt has to tread a fine line. As for politician's rorting, it might be a lot of money to an individual but is hardly a drop in the bucket for the govt.

        Let them go then. Local businesses can rise up and take their place.

          Until the company goes "Okay cool let's just do it all offshore!" and you end up with nothing. The vacuum won't be filled with local businesses, either because the business just doesn't exist, there's no infrastructure to support it, or it's cheaper to do it offshore.

        So your idea is essentially to let Big business hold us hostage and allow them to do as they wish just because they might pack up and piss off? Next youll be saying pentaly rates need to go.

      The problem with going after big business is well... there are many problems sometimes it costs more to prosecute than you will get back. Other times they are just being scape goated cause every one with money is evil. Policing centre link payments is a fairly cheap way of discouraging fraud and as over half our population is on some form of benefit it could reap large rewards.

    I'm not sure why this is such a huge deal. I work in insurance and we use social media to detect fraud on a daily basis, often successfully. I doubt this is a new practice and it's not as if they're gaining unauthorised access and circumventing passwords etc. They're just looking at what's available to the general public.

    If you want to protect your privacy either lock down your accounts, or better yet, don't have accounts in the first place.

    I've caught out heaps of people dumb enough to leave their social media accounts public.

      I need to know more about this!

      What kind of things do you pick people up doing?
      People lighting their car on fire before the claims? I must know!!!

        for starters people who can work because they are injured but posting photos of themselves water skiing and the like

        As has been stated in the comments, people tweet and post photos of themselves doing things they apparently aren't capable of doing.

        Eg we had a guy tell us due to his illness he wasn't capable of working as he couldn't walk more than 20m without needing a break. Using some clever googling we easily found the football club he plays for and even confirmed how many goals he was scoring each week. It took less than 10 minutes to get the evidence we needed.

        He's lucky we didn't bother reporting him for insurance fraud. Him having to pay back in excess of $60k in benefits has ruined his life for a long time.

    Wow! If only they were as rigorous with their customer service, and call management systems. I have friends and relatives who require telephone contact with their service for disabled pension and child support issues, and they've all had terrible experiences of waiting for up to 5 or more hours on hold, having the line go dead on them, or just unable to get through at all.
    It is a safety net provided to those vulnerable members of our community, and it is part of what makes this country great. To treat people in need like this is despicable, yet we waste literally BILLIONS of dollars on an already inferior jet that can't fly, and we don't know if it ever will successfully.
    Sorry for the rant, but for them to be praising their fraud detection, whilst their core business is flawed beyond usable, is a disgusting display of arrogance and ignorance.

    Last edited 05/02/16 1:47 pm

      But giving you service means it costs them money to give you money. Services are a low priority.

      DHS and Telstra spent 474 million on call centre operations and it had little to no effect on call times cause of increase demands on service... now at least another billion for online service support to reduce reliance on call centres and it would cost 100 million for 1000 staff to just man the phones for even a noticeable reduction in call hold times but still end up people waiting on hold for ages cause the population increases and a large portion of the population uses their services.

        Rather than call services - export the whole thing to online applications and be done with it. Pensioners can access these through community groups/centres if need be.
        Waiting to speak to someone on the phone? What is this, 1995?
        Think I'll go watch Hackers again....

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