Gangs target $13m in coronavirus and bushfire payments
CRIMINAL networks and fraudsters have been caught in 650 attempts to rip off $13 million in welfare and disaster payments in the past 18 months.
Data from Services Australia reveals the attempts to fraudulently claim the cash.
It includes one man who in March had allegedly created 58 false and stolen identities to claim $35,000 in disaster payments meant for bushfire victims.
The same man allegedly also made three fake JobSeeker claims related to coronavirus payments. The matter is still before the courts.
There were 450 fraud claims related to Services Australia referred to police in 2019-20 and another 196 from July to November, with $13 million in payments recovered.
In another case, a different man was arrested by Australian Federal Police Operation Blackstone for allegedly using stolen identities to create fake myGov accounts and redirect $18,000 in welfare payments to bank accounts he controlled.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said each of these cases were identified as part of joint operations between Services Australia, the department which runs Centrelink, and the AFP.
"We have seen many successful operations this year, uncovering fraud in family day care payments, pandemic relief payments, disaster recovery payments and the more routine range of welfare payments," he said.
"Services Australia has provided an essential safety net for millions of Australians this year, which is why we are so intent on stamping out this kind of opportunistic fraud - it's an insult to those who are doing it tough and often targets our most vulnerable.
"Australians want to be assured the support and assistance available through Services Australia is going to those that need and warrant it - not to unscrupulous criminals."
He said there had been 450 referrals to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions last financial year and 196 to the end of November this financial year.
It is understood the department is monitoring to see if there has been any increase in welfare fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre this year had reported an increase in criminal targeting Australians with COVID-19 themed scams and online frauds.
Originally published as Gangs target $13m in coronavirus, bushfire payments