18 Nov 2014

Digital investigation of benefit frauds

A reader writes:
Benefit fraud cases can only be investigated if the accused typically claims at least 10k in fraudulent claims. This is roughly the cost of each investigation into benefit fraud. The reason why cases involving benefit fraud are so high is largely down to the cost of gathering and analyzing the evidence. Experts are beginning to push back on the cut backs to investigations forced by the government agencies.

In terms of digital forensics investigations, which is what is largely used to convict these criminals, the bills can be high, but justified.

The resistance against the cap of digital forensics investigations can be easily justified when considerations are taken to the service provided and what it entails. The world-wide standards for software requirement and equipment needed to conduct digital forensic investigations must be current and fit for purpose. The UK prides itself on being the leader of standards worldwide to ensure quality of evidential procedures. As members of the UK we aim to retain those high standards to the best of our ability and continue to lead the world forward. If cuts are forced to be made to the procedures, software or hardware used, there may not be any guarantee of integrity of evidence, which would wrongly provide no fair standard of justice in court.

Digital examiners are required, as per the ‘UK ACPO guidelines for digital based evidence’ to ensure standards of skills are kept to a competent level. In order for competency to remain stable, experts must gain appropriate training certifications, experience and be kept up to date on new technological changes. Technology is continuously advancing, and so too are the crimes committed; therefore training is not a “one-off” but much more of an ongoing expense. This also ensures that appropriate justice is given to those appearing under scrutiny through their digital media. If we do not keep ourselves up to date with research and official training then we cannot keep up with the ever changing technologies out there.

Reducing the quality of work conducted could lead to a miscarriage of justice. This applies to both prosecution and defence work. In fact, shortly after the budgets were sharply lowered for prosecution cases (before the similar decrease in defence cases) experts working for defence were finding additional evidence that was missed due to cuts in the prosecution budget. The guilty are going free and the innocent are being convicted!

I am a little conscious of anyone getting the wrong end of the stick in thinking that digital forensics is cutting corners. Essentially it is - but we are being forced to due to budget cuts. We don't want to cut corners, we want to do the best to our ability but the cuts don't allow us to because it's physically not possible to run a business giving the standard we want to give for the money we are being paid. We want to provide the best evidence in order to give people a fair trial, but there is no cheap way to do that. And it is really something that needs to be addressed across the industry. Not just in digital forensics but across the legal sector (solicitors and other forensics etc).

The benefit fraud needs to be stopped before it gets to the stage of requiring an investigation. I believe that more stringent measures need to be put in place to stop it from happening because the cost to the UK for fraud is getting discussing.
My own take on this is that the digital evidence in benefit fraud court cases is often simple (such as offenders' facebook pages or bank accounts), which shouldn't need 'training certifications'. But I'd welcome other views.


Anonymous said...

In terms of simple investigations, anything that is black or white, I would agree and anything public yes, its quick and easy and is a guaranteed win to catch. I think this post relates to more complex evidence and the people who actually try to cover their tracks. The ones who get sidelined because an investigation would be too complex.

John Page said...

Anyone got any examples?

Anonymous said...

Look up Housing Benefit Risk Based Reviews, which more councils are taking on.

Less evidence is requested for 'low risk' claims but I dont see much more involved for 'high risk' claims.

Anonymous said...

Collusive employers. What the payslip says (usually 24 hours at minimum wage so they qualify for WTC) and what they really get paid.

Taxi drivers declaring very low incomes.