Barley Laing 17 November 2020

Why councils should embrace electronic ID verification

While the world was increasingly going digital before COVID-19, the pandemic has supercharged the process, prompting local authorities to improve engagement across all online channels.

In the current climate people are worried about going to places where the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is high to access services, such as enclosed spaces like council offices. They are also increasingly recognising the convenience of engaging via the internet. As a result, they want fast and secure access to public sector services online.

However, in this renewed push to improve digital access there’s a danger that local authorities may leave themselves open to fraudulent activity. Fraud is already a big issue, with the National Fraud Authority estimating that around £40bn is lost annually in the public sector. This figure could rise with reports of fraudulent activity in the digital space escalating significantly since March.

When engaging online, it is vital for local authorities to ensure that they are dealing with the person they think they are to help prevent fraud. To achieve this, they must carry out effective electronic ID verification (eIDV), ideally in real time, at the point of access online. This approach also ensures good governance by aiding compliance with know your customer or citizen (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations.

eIDV is the answer

In this drive to digital, local authorities must embrace automated eIDV in lieu of the manual ID checks that currently exist. This means when someone completes an online application process for a service, effective cross-checks must be made against the data they have provided. Verification of data accuracy must also occur in real time, to ensure the experience of the user is not compromised. This requires the matching of the name, address, date of birth, email, or phone number against reputable data streams, including government agency, credit agency, and utility records.

To do this effectively, eIDV services must have real time access to a dataset of billions of consumer records, including reputable third party and politically exposed person (PEP) data. Ideally, these services should also enrich customer records, highlighting and correcting any existing inaccuracies.

Such an automated process is well ahead of the physical, time consuming, and much more costly checks that traditionally take place behind the scenes. Also, manual checks are subject to human error, coupled with lack of training that can mean the entire verification process is not as effective and stringent as it must be. Additionally, with budgets under pressure during the pandemic and staff possibly on furlough, eIDV offers a fast and cost-effective technological solution to ID verification.

Combine eIDV with document verification and biometrics

To further prevent fraud, document verification and biometrics must be combined in a strategic eIDV process. For example, document verification is vital in ‘remote onboarding’ of online users. It enables local authorities to verify ID documentation and identify the user with confidence, as they send their ID through to the awaiting authority, in real time and via their device of choice.

Biometrics, which are human physical and behavioural characteristics that can be used to digitally identity a person, add value as an important part of this eIDV process. They allow a user to quickly and easily access services or their account without needing to answer time consuming security questions or remember passwords, helping to ensure a positive experience.

It is important to note that basic biometric services can be hackable. To ensure validity, local authorities must incorporate a biometric algorithm that checks for eye movement as part of their eIDV process. This ensures organisations are engaging with a real live person, not a static image or avatar to further help prevent fraud.

eIDV and artificial intelligence (AI)

AI can increasingly work with and improve eIDV. For example, semantic technology, or semtech, associates words with meanings and recognises the relationships between them. The machine reasoning and automated pattern recognition provided by semtech helps to identify possible fraudulent applications in real time. The same technology also makes it possible to apply context and make inferences with data, ensuring properly validated identities as well as broader data quality and integrity – all critical issues in public sector operations.

Embrace eIDV as online interactions continue to increase

eIDV is worth it. The cost of embedding eIDV solutions into your platform is tiny when compared to the high risk of fraud in the digital space.

Local authorities without an eIDV service in place urgently need to source an option, ideally featuring access to a dataset of billions of records for effective real time data validation. Adding document verification and stringent biometric capabilities increases the value of eIDV efforts. Also, over the longer term, authorities should keep an eye on the evolving role of AI in improving the eIDV process.

Barley Laing is UK managing director at Melissa

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