Monday, January 21, 2008

Facebook--- Fun, Friendship and Fraud monitoring

The next time somebody tries to poke you on Facebook or asks to be your friend, think twice about it all, for it just may be an inspector from the Provincial Government looking to see if you’re engaged in less than honest pursuits if you’re on a welfare claim.

The Tyee on line news site has reported on a message that advocates for those on welfare and unemployment have distributed through their network, which says that the province’s fraud inspectors are researching social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space.

The inspectors are seeking out details such as if you’re co-habitating with someone you have not disclosed, or if you may have picked up a second job that you’ve neglected to list for government officials.

Extended periods of absence from the province are also a red flag, so posting those digital pictures of your trip to Alberta may not be wise either, likewise the ever popular Facebook photo selection of nightly socializing in clubs probably wouldn’t be received well either.

Government officials with the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance offer up the reasoning that they are required to investigate any information that they receive about claimants, especially when it involves those clients who are reported to be trying to defraud the system.
So if someone calls in a tip that a person on Facebook recently came back from Las Vegas for instance and posted pictures, then the government’s fraud agents would be expected to see the details for themselves.

It’s an approach to the job that what will probably become a controversial bit of sleuthing; as the Big Brother aspect of the government’s quest for fraud will probably receive a fair bit of discussion now that it’s been brought out in the open.

While safe guarding the integrity of the welfare system is a laudable goal for the government, having civil servants spending their days surfing the Facebook universe seems like perhaps the ultimate in needle in the haystack experiences. They might be better off playing on line poker and trying to win a surplus for the department, such is the nature of the job at hand.

With literally millions and millions of users around the world, many of whom use any number of ways to identify themselves without need for hometown or name, actually snaring a welfare cheat would most likely take far more hours of Facebook clicking than more traditional methods might. It’s a process that makes this social networking sleuthing surely not the best usage of valuable human resources.

It used to be that fraud investigators would make unannounced visits to a clients home and scope things out, investigating toothbrushes and pillows, coffee cups and closet usage. Now if the need arises it could very well just take a couple of clicks to know all they need to know to take further action.

Poke, Poke, Poke, and no Pogey for you!

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