PPS numbers - State could lose millions to fraud

THE total of compromised Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers has risen to 703, according to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which is also investigating a further 409 numbers that it suspects were illegally obtained.

The whole thing could expose the state to millions of euro in fraud annually. People with bogus PPS numbers could theoretically obtain social welfare benefits and also acquire credit cards.

According to the department, 1,127 PPS numbers have been “improperly obtained” since the year 2000.

In the past three years the department has uncovered about 1,000 instances of bogus identity papers being used in an effort to claim welfare payments. This has led to the arrest of 227 people.

In some instances the suspect numbers have only recently been discovered, so those cases are being investigated.

Any PPS number that has been improperly obtained is deemed fake, and using those numbers for any purpose is considered fraudulent.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, the State’s financial watchdog, concluded in his report for 2004 that bogus PPS numbers could be exposing the State to fraud running from €25 million to €50 million. That assessment was done on basis of a speculative estimation following the discovery of 653 bogus PPS numbers.

No figures are available about the number of compromised PPS numbers issued to foreigners. There had been a computer difficulty about recognising foreign names in the allocation of PPS numbers. The data dictionary did not recognise foreign names, so it would have been possible for those people to obtain more than one number.

This data recognition problem has since been rectified, and the department has also tightened up on issuing of PPS numbers by centralising the process in a selected office in each county.

The number of workers coming from the new EU states had declined, but 72,000 Polish people were accorded PPS numbers this year. Those workers must live here for two years before they can claim state benefits. The potential for fraud is so great that the issue of bogus numbers must be tackled promptly.

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