Government officials have detected suspected “sophisticated” early access fraud, which could have deprived up to 150 Australians of $ 120,000 in retirement savings.
On Thursday, the Treasury, the Australian tax office and the federal police conducted the Senate Covid-19 investigation to discuss the integrity of the $ 194 billion in three stimulus packages.
Australian Tax Bureau Commissioner Chris Jordan confirmed that “certain limited fraudulent activities have been identified and immediately implemented” in relation to identity theft to defraud workers into retirement savings.
AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw said the alleged fraud was the result of “third party intrusion”, which was not a government agency. He admitted that organized crime and offshore actors were “possibilities” that AFP was investigating.
Kershaw said the suspected fraud was detected by the financial intelligence agency Austrac, which informed the ATO, which resulted in a referral to AFP on May 1.
Kershaw said AFP had executed five search warrants and frozen $ 120,000 in bank accounts but that there had been no arrests.
A brief was sent to ministers in the Morrison government on May 6, but no directions were taken to improve the integrity of the program.
Jeremy Hirschhorn, the second ATO commissioner, said the ministers “urged us to do our best” but did not suggest specific responses.
The committee learned that 1.1 million Australians have applied for retirement, with $ 9.4 billion in retirement savings approved for early release.
AFP created the Iris Taskforce to investigate whether organized crime or others are seeking to defeat Covid-19’s economic response measures.
In his opening statement, Kershaw said that a man in western Sydney had been arrested for “allegedly submitting claims for a range of government benefits, intended to assist members of the community affected by Covid- 19 and bush fires “.
“He used 11 supposed identities and 53 fictitious identities to submit 68 requests for government benefits … [the] the total value of the claims exceeded $ 70,000. “
Kershaw said the man was charged “with a series of Commonwealth offenses, including obtaining financial advantage through deception”.
Kershaw said the task force had received seven referrals, including one that resulted in charges, three cases finalized and three currently under investigation, including one concerning the worker’s bi-weekly payment of $ 1,500.
“The reason we created this working group is that we are planning more referrals,” he said.
Earlier, Jordan said, “Whenever money is distributed, you will get an element of crime and try to access it.”
Kershaw told the committee that certain categories of crime increased during the Covid-19 crisis, including the prevalence of child abuse on the dark web, burglary and family violence. However, homicides have dropped and drug prices have gone up, a sign of a decline in supply.
Asked about the progress of an investigation into AFP recruits who broke the rules of social distancing, Kershaw revealed that 76 recruits were investigated and 53 were sanctioned, including two who received justification notices.
“They did get the cane, and beyond,” he said.
Jenny Wilkinson, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for the tax group, told the committee that more than $ 15 billion in stimulus packages have already been released, including:
Payments for job seekers with the coronavirus supplement.
$ 5.2 billion in payments of $ 750 to households.
$ 7.5 billion to increase small business cash flow.
$ 2.4 billion in wage subsidies to workers.
Wilkinson said 768,000 employers have registered for job seekers, covering up to 5 million workers.
She said the demand-side program was largely on track to meet Treasury estimates of 6 million workers, and noted that the deadline for receiving payments for April had been extended to May 31. .
ATO officials said their helpline for alleged worker fraud received 1,160 tips and another 2,000 “calls to concern”.