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FAQ: Local Authority Covid-19 Screening Service

7 May 2020

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Following the Government’s announcement of a package of economic relief for businesses, Local Authorities have been tasked with distributing government funds through grant applications. This has meant they have needed to act quickly in order to provide the help businesses need financially during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Our intelligence has picked up changing fraud since the coronavirus (COVID-19) started to spread in the UK and continues to increase daily. We understand that of the 5,000 grant applications recently received by just one council, one in ten was flagged as potentially being linked to fraud.

For these reasons we have developed a fraud screening service exclusively for Local Authorities, which have until the 31st of May to register.

 Today we are answering some of the most frequently asked questions about the service:

Q: How quickly can local authorities get signed up?

The signup process is as fast as you signing the two documents required and getting them over to us. We ask you to sign a reduced version of our membership agreement which covers the legality of sharing personal data, and an indemnity that means that you’re linked to an insurance policy in case anyone acts on any information in the database that may be incorrect. This policy has been active for 31 years and there has yet to be a claim made against it. You will also need to complete an application form. From there we would pass you the secure file exchange information you would need to get started.

Q: What additional benefits regarding business rate grants does this provide above the government’s Spotlight tool?

Spotlight shows if a limited company is registered at Companies House. That confirms it exists but does not show anything about previous behaviour regarding fraud that local authorities may want to know and which Cifas holds and shares. Equally many of the grant applications will be made by small businesses which are not limited companies registered at Companies House. So local authorities may choose to use Spotlight AND Cifas to really get the best available information.

Q: Do you cover anything as well as business rates grants?

We are just focusing on the business rates grants for now, however there talks are ongoing with our pilot local authorities about supporting other initiatives in the future.

Q: Local Authorities are under huge pressure to process these payments without delay. How quickly can these fraud checks be carried out?

We understand the pressure local authorities are under in getting these payments made. As an organisation we worked have worked quickly to develop this expeditious service in order to support Local Authorities the best we can, as quickly as possible. The longest a local authority will wait for their cleared results during a working week is 24 hours and matches within 72hrs.

We understand the wider harm that would be caused if this money got into a fraudsters hands, and it’s crucial that we all make sure the money goes to those that so desperately need it at this time. It’s important to remember that we can look back at application data - post activity review is very powerful.

Q: What additional benefits does this service offer if you are using Experian for pre and post payment checks?

When you access Cifas through credit referencing agencies such as Experian, it only allows you to screen a specific rule set against the database. It will only look at information such as company name, first name, surname and date of birth, but it won’t provide matches against financial details and potential contact information like mobile numbers and email addresses. Screening through our service allows you to search through a richer data set of confirmed fraudulent activity.

Q: Does Cifas screen bank account details or just name and address details?

We have a number of data matching rules in place and each of these data matching rules will screen individually, meaning we can provide screening against individuals (first name, surname and date of birth), address, financial details and contact information. What we can’t do is validate that bank details belong to an individual, however we can provide a match when those details have been involved in fraudulent activity and therefore represent a high risk of fraud.

Some of the matches we are seeing returned to Local Authorities using our service are indicating that certain financial details are being used to receive fraudulent payments into an account - indicating possible money mule activity. This information will allow a local authority to carry out extra due diligence either before or after the funds have been dispersed.

Q: With most Local Authorities having already processed thousands of applications and paid out tens of millions of pounds, is it a bit late for this preventative approach?

We understand the pressure that local authorities are under which is why this service provides prepayment checks, however it can also be used for post payment checks. Cifas will be prioritising local authorities still focusing on prepayment checks as that is where the greater risk and opportunities are, but we will support local authorities however they chose to conduct their checks.

Q: Is it possible for a quicker turnaround time for the data checks?

We aim for the quickest turn around possible depending on the amount that is being processed at one time. Applications that come through clean with no matches may be returned quicker. Applications that match against a fraud case may take longer as a Cifas team member reviews and interprets the matches in order to provide the correct information necessary to support the local authority. So far 3-12% of applications are providing matches, so the majority of applications are clean and are returned back to the local authorities within hours.

User Case: When we upload larger batches of 700-800 we wake up the next day and have all the data back to us as the matches are run 24 hours a day. We have been trained to interpret the data from Cifas directly as a part of the pilot scheme and so we do not have to wait for a Cifas team member to interpret for us. Smaller batches of about 150 applications have been turning around to us in about an hour. The applications that come back with no hits give you the assurance to go ahead and get things out the door quickly.

Q: Is Associate Membership just for the duration of the current COVID-19 response or is there an expectation to sign up for membership there after? If so, what are the costs of membership?

There are no expectations for local authorities to sign up for full Cifas membership after this. This service was devised because we saw a massive vulnerability in the business rates grant scheme in which fraudsters will exploit. We wanted to support local authorities during this time, however we are of course happy to discuss full membership with any local authority that may want to continue using Cifas databases and services post COVID-19.

Q: What file transfer method is used to get our data to Cifas?

We have set up a secure file exchange via browser, and this provides you with a login to upload your data file in a .csv format. The validation checks that we carry out will be to validate files so they can be uploaded into a batch. Fields in the .csv are limited for a certain number of characters which helps to ensure that the data has correct formatting, is clean to be run through the system, and is in line with the data matching rules. We want to ensure that these files run smoothly and produce the least amount of errors returning meaningful matches back to local authorities. We do provide guidance for the uploading process to help eliminate any delays due to formatting issues.

Q: How can Local Authorities sign up?

All Local Authorities need to do is email us at contact us at newmembers@cifas.org.uk and we will get things moving quickly. For additional information about how the service works then please take a look at our dedicated webpage.

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Posted by: Nick Downing

Nick is the Chief Intelligence Officer at Cifas.

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Posted by: Nick Downing

Nick is the Chief Intelligence Officer at Cifas.

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