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DCF looks to limit fraud by asking a few questions

by John Kennedy | May 14th, 2013

Losing millions of dollars in benefits to fraud, the Florida Department of Children & Families said Tuesday it is installing a new system requiring those getting services to answer a series of questions to verify their identity.

DCF Secretary David Wilkins said the $5 million program could save as much as $90 million a year in lost benefits.

“This is how big corporations manage their data,” Wilkins said.

DCF has been using an electonic benefits transfer (EBT) debit cards for about a decade. About 90 percent of applicants for food stamps, medicine- and cash-assistance programs apply online, a percentage that has steadily increased over the years.

But so, too, has fraud, Wilkins said.

“Florida has the highest per capita rate of identify theft in the country,” he said, with DCF benefits a top item in the target-rich environment.

Florida has been slow to enact verification efforts commonly used by banks, online retailers and other providers because federal officials have been reluctant to green-light anything that could interfere with a client receiving benefits, officials said. But the new system, whose vendors are LexisNexis Group and Acuity, has proved successful in a pilot test conducted by DCF the past few months in the Orlando area.

But the pilot also resulted in some shocking revelations, officials acknowledged.

“We found three times more fraud than we anticipated in our business plan,” Wilkens said.

The Legislature last month approved a measure also aimed at cracking down on electronic benefits, imposing new restrictions on where those receiving temporary assistance to needy families (TANF) can use their cards.

The measure prohibits EBT cards from being used at liquor stores, gambling locales or places that specialize in adult entertainment, including porn shops.

Florida officials earlier confirmed a 2011 TV news investigation that found that of 1.3 million EBT transactions totaling nearly $202 million over a two-year period in Florida, about $93,000 was drawn at places with liquor licenses, strip clubs or gambling sites.

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