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Tough new powers to tighten the net on fraud gangsters and punish ...
Tough new powers to tighten the net on fraud gangsters and punish

employers who help benefit fraudsters came into force today.

The department for work and pensions has added new weapons to its

armoury to keep the benefit crooks on the run.

Anti-fraud minister Malcolm Wicks said today: 'Organised criminals

are using sophisticated techniques to rip off the taxpayer, stealing

money which should be going to those who really need it. Benefit

fraud costs the taxpayer about£2bn every year.

'These people are experts at exploiting any loopholes in the system.

Benefit cheats use multiple bank accounts, identities and addresses

and rely on organisations not talking to each other for some of their


'For too long investigators have been trying to fight fraud with one

arm tied behind their back. Taking up these powers will bring it home

to fraudsters that the more professional approach and techniques we

have adopted over the last few years are being stepped up.

'Our new approach is already paying off. We have reduced the level of

fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance by 18 per

cent and are on target to halve it by 2006.

'Benefit fraud is by nature a covert activity which is harder to

detect. There is no smoking gun or shattered glass from a break-in so

the key to investigating it is obtaining information.'

From today benefit fraud investigators can use powers to:

- Get organisations like banks, insurance companies, utility

companies and universities to provide information about their

customers and students where fraud is suspected.

- Hit employers who collude with their workers to commit benefit

fraud in their pocket with swift cash penalties - the bigger the

fraud, the larger the penalty.

- Cut red tape to enable local councils and the department for work

and pensions to enforce joint penalties on fraudsters.

Mr Wicks continued: 'Cross-checking of information that people

provide to banks and other organisations will help us detect fraud.

'If we suspect someone is claiming benefit and working but concealing

their earnings, checking information with another independent source

can be invaluable in proving a crime is being committed.

'Also, knowing we have these powers will be a deterrent to


The new powers will only be used where there are reasonable grounds

for suspecting benefit fraud. A Code of Practice governing these

powers is also published today - it will provide safeguards that

these tools are used only when there is no other way of getting the


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