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ID security comes at a cost but so does refusing to participate in anti-fraud biometrics

ID security comes at a cost but so does refusing to participate in anti-fraud biometrics

If there is an answer to the U.S. federal government’s digital identification migraine, it is not obvious.

The start of 2022 saw quakes in Washington, D.C., that will have lasting effects on the debate over biometric verification and authentication.

This week, The Washington Post that a Labor Department watchdog agency had found at least $163 billion in Covid unemployment overpayments. That figure, according to the Post, “includes wrongly paid sums as well as ‘significant’ benefits obtained by malicious actors.”

In February, the Internal Revenue Service was savaged for instituting optional face scans for taxpayers who wanted to complete a short list – possibly in the single digits — of identity-based tasks. The political backlash was quick, and IRS officials reversed course just as fast.

The two events are not directly related, but they vividly illustrate the degree of difficulty the lumbering and hyper-partisan federal government faces in delivering on basic responsibilities today.

In this case, Washington needed to dispense $5 trillion in a matter of months to businesses and citizens unable to work because of or otherwise impacted by the pandemic with as close to zero fraud as possible. It failed.

Of the $1.03 trillion earmarked for unemployment relief, $163 billion was lost to overpayments, including identity theft. “At least” $4.1 billion of that amount has been recovered

The Post article tells the story of a woman who was working earlier in the pandemic and was subsequently laid off only to find out that her benefit had been claimed already by a fraudster.

Better security, maybe in the form of face biometrics, fingerprint scans – anything, could have reduced the losses.

As the watchdog’s report was sinking in around Washington, the IRS was gently wading into biometric security.

It had hired ID.me to create an optional identification track for taxpayers who wanted specific services.

One was for creating a login for a person’s IRS services account. They had the option of instead calling in to create the account (or, for that matter, not creating an account at all). Filing taxes was not involved. Like any other government, the feds put very few restrictions on how people give it money.

Tens of millions of faces were volunteered, according to Bloomberg. Among the services they traded their face biometrics for was eligibility information about the expanded child tax credit, part of President Biden’s pandemic relief program.

Misinformation and misunderstandings ensued, with some people fearing the biometrics service was a nefarious power grab by probably the most hated government agency.

Others did not like that a vendor was administering the service, not realizing how common the practice is. Private food vendors at Mt. Rushmore handle credit transactions – including personal data — by the fistful every July.

Lawmakers have directly questioned claims from ID.me on the amount of fraud it has prevented.

While anything is possible, it is hard to see how the federal government, state governments or, indeed, any government in the world will succeed in bringing state-of-the-art identity authentication to fight tech-heavy fraudsters.

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