Dole cheats tracked down online
Sleuths from the Social Welfare Department are tracking down cheaters through a new investigative front - cyberspace. Their target is welfare recipients who use social networking sites to earn extra income through clandestine business.
In a recent case, the department caught a welfare recipient who was using an internet discussion forum to find customers for a tour business he had set up. He was guiding photography tours to the mainland.
Other cheats have been nabbed playing the stock market from home but failing to declare their shares as assets. The department warns that information on social networking sites is far from secret, and is proving useful to investigators at a time of increasing welfare fraud.
'If people set out to cheat deliberately, they will come up with a variety of methods,' chief social security investigator Ng Yiu-hing said.
The department detected 1,049 cases in the 2010-11 financial year, up from 989 the previous year and 825 in 2008-09. While the number of cases rose, the amount of money involved dropped to HK$49.1 million last year from HK$59.7 million in 2009-10.
The department's special investigation team is carrying out a risk assessment of the new trend and studying the methods used by the cheats. It plans to devote more resources to tackling the problem.
The team didn't have much to go on, at first, when it started its probe of the online tour guide.
'We discovered he was making many trips to the mainland,' Ng said. 'When we visited his home, we noticed he had a lot of scenic photographs, not taken in Hong Kong, which he could not explain to our satisfaction.'
Noticing that some private organisations were organising photo-taking trips to the mainland, the investigators went online - and discovered the man was recruiting clients through an internet discussion forum. After five months' investigation, they cracked the case.
Despite the trend of increased cheating, Ng said the level of fraud remains low when compared to the total number of people - 282,000 - who received payments through the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance programme in the 2010-2011 financial year. The department received 3,725 complaints about welfare fraud that year, down from 4,029 the previous year.