What if the government could combat fraud by alerting individuals when their data is used to apply for public benefits?

Identity Alerts for Government

Our government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding the eligibility criteria for many existing social safety net programs and created new ways for struggling Americans to get help when they needed it most. Unfortunately, swindlers, grifters, fraudsters, criminals, trouble-makers, and scammers saw opportunities to benefit from the expanded government assistance as well. Fraud and identity theft increased exponentially. The recent surge in pandemic-related benefits processing has highlighted the significance, scope, and complexity of this problem. Identity theft and benefit claims fraud have resulted in millions of people suffering financial hardship and the stress of cleaning up their stolen identities—all during a global pandemic.

10x is investigating the development of an Identity Alert Service that will allow members of the public to voluntarily sign up to receive notifications when their personal information is used to apply for government services and benefits. This service will build trust and strengthen social safety net programs across the government.

Why this matters

Many Americans are used to receiving proactive notifications from banks when their data is used to apply for things like credit cards and loans. They might receive an email that says “Our records indicate that you have recently applied for our low-interest rate credit card”, or receive a text that says “We’ve noticed some strange activity on your account and want to confirm that it’s really you”. But the government does not currently offer Americans these types of notifications for benefits applications, like emergency rental assistance or farm loans. And that’s a problem, especially when fraudulent benefit claims are rising sharply.

This work matters because the public deserves to know if their personal information has been compromised to illegally claim benefits meant for those most in need of help. This work will combat fraud, strengthen America’s social safety net, build trust with the public, and bring government technology in line with best practices in the private sector.

What we're doing

Over the course of Phase One, our project team conducted extensive research to understand and validate that the problem statement submitted to 10x is timely, worth solving, and ripe for innovation. At the end of Phase One, our team has outlined what the next phase of work will need to look like to reach success, including questions that need answering and current technical considerations and limitations that will be overcome. 

How we're doing it

Our team interviewed experts at four different federal agencies and several private sector firms and credit reporting agencies to learn about the scope of the problem, the demand for a solution, and approaches the private sector is already taking to combat fraud. In addition to interviews, our team cited nearly 60 different sources that informed their research into the problem space, covering articles on benefits fraud in the press to internal government memos and more.

Where we are today

This project has completed Phase One and has been approved for Phase Two. While we gear up for the next phase of work, we’re coordinating with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to align with complimentary efforts at other agencies looking to solve the same problem. We expect to kick-off Phase Two in May or June.

Completed Phase 1. We are preparing to begin Phase 2 in the Summer of 2022.

Next steps

Here are a few of the priority research questions and tasks we see taking place as soon as we kick off Phase Two of Identity Alerts for Government:

  • Talk to victims of government identity theft to better understand the challenges of dealing with and cleaning up the aftermath of fraud. 
  • Research, prototype, and test different technical approaches  to implementing an opt-in identity alerts service.
  • Determine what guidance we’ll need to give the dozens of agencies involved  to make this a sustainable, long-term offering and conceptualize what a governance structure for this solution could look like.
  • Investigate how a government Identity Alert Service aligns with existing identity-proofing methods used across government.
  • Gather insights around how government identity proofing impacts public trust and what methods get the least resistance.
  • Estimate the infrastructure, human resource, operational and maintenance requirements, and costs of an Identity Alert System and learn what portion of the cost private sector partners are willing to take.