Centrelink

Reporter: Jonathan Creek

He is a modern day bandit committing daylight robbery -- not stealing from a bank or credit union, but from you -- helping himself to $30, 000 he doesn't deserve; and another, the same "fake name" scam but for a lot more money --$100,000. Or how about safety in numbers -- one couple worked together to scam $48,000. They are Centrelink cheats ... the lot of them ... they were caught on tape in the biggest crackdown in the Agency's history.

"False identities are unquestionably the most common way in which people try to defraud the system", said Centrelink's Hank Jongen.

Hank says there's one business that booms in hard financial times and that's the business of ripping off the Government. "People using false names, people setting up false entities, people who are working without telling us, people who have got more than one job and not telling us, people who are in relationships who are being paid as single recipients and not telling us they are actually living with a partner. They're the sorts of situations where people have deliberately set out to mislead us or provide us with false information", Hank said.

Each year Centrelink pays out more than $84 billion dollars in benefits, helping more than 7 million Australians with the costs of living. While the bulk of people do the right thing, there's a rogue 2%, determined to keep the great Aussie "dole cheat" tradition alive.

But it appears the bulk of us have had enough, dobbing dole cheats in at a record rate. In the past twelve months Centrelink have received more than two thousand tip offs a week, that's 100,000 a year, triggering 43,000 investigations.

Seven thousand of those result in the reduction or cancellation of payments, saving taxpayers a staggering $101 million dollars. "It's really important to understand it's not a question of if you get caught, it's a question of when you get caught. The problem is the longer you've got away with it, the bigger the debt that you incur -- and we will always seek to recover that debt, we are vigilant in recovering tax payers money", Hank said.

Using advanced data matching computer systems, Centrelink can check and monitor information across a number of Government agencies, including the Tax Office. They also have a team of undercover investigators cracking down on the fraudsters.

According to Hank, fake ID's, false passports and birth certificates won't be enough to fool the system forever. "Although some of the techniques are sophisticated in setting up false identities, so are our techniques in terms of picking them up", he said.

And things are about to get even tougher. The advances in technology and the Centrelink investigative network will allow them to play a major role in helping tackle organised crime gangs. "What we also know now is that organised crime touches the welfare system on occasions and in fact the Government has given us an additional $70 million to engage in really sophisticated investigations. We expect to recover $141 million of tax payers money as a result of that", Hank said.

But not everyone is happy about Centrelink's new hardline approach. Maree O'Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network claims too often people who can't afford to defend themselves in court, are being prosecuted for making honest mistakes. "It's very important people don't cheat the welfare system, very, very, very important. But most of the claims we have coming through the centre have problems with the complex rules. They have not intentionally tried to defraud but get things wrong", Maree said.

Maree claims for real results in regard to fraud, the system and the way it works needs to be simplified. "Even the National Audits office has said the investigations process needs to be looked at", she added.

"If you hear someone bragging at a BBQ about the fact they are ripping off Centrelink understand this, they are ripping you off. They are ripping off the taxpayer, they are not ripping off some organisation, it's you and I that are being ripped off", Hank said.

And the number and link people can use to tip off cheats: Ph: 13 15 24

or visit the website at: www.centrelink.gov.au/internet/internet.nsf/about_us/fraud_how.htm