UK city centre during lockdown

Benefit applications verified using selfies, tackling identify theft

Image credit: Gary Butterfield | Unsplash

During the coronavirus lockdown, with people unable to attend interviews in person, the GOV.UK Verify system processed millions of new benefit applications online using selfies.

The pandemic's first wave had a devastating economic impact on many industries and the resulting job losses and business closures nationwide triggered an unforeseen demand for GOV.UK’s services. At its peak, there were over 400 applicants a minute to services such as Universal Credit and small business support.

Over one million new verified GOV.UK accounts have been created since March 2020, with GOV.UK’s identity verification solution having to cope with more than 150,000 applicants per week. Fraud also rose by 33 per cent during the first three months of the pandemic, including identity and benefit fraud.

AI and machine learning, along with a team of (human) forensic document experts for more complex cases, worked together to ensure a fast, secure and robust identity verification service during the crisis – an approach that can now be replicated whenever any similar level of demand hits in the future.

GOV.UK partners Digidentity and Mitek worked to speed up and scale up the existing identity verification solution. Mitek’s near real-time selfie and ID document comparison was critical in helping to minimise fraud, ensuring applicants could be accurately verified in minutes. Mitek's and Digidentity's expertise lies in digital identity verification technology and solutions. Both companies worked with GOV.UK to securely scale up operations to enable faster onboarding of new registrants on the GOV.UK Verify platform.

This remote, all-digital approach had to be rapidly scaled up, in partnership with key technology providers Mitek and Digidentity, to continue safely handling the deluge of new benefit claims.

GOV.UK has been a vital gateway for consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic. It enables access to 22 government services, including Universal Credit applications, business and self-employed payments, car registration and tax services, and pension queries. Following initial registration, a GOV.UK Verify account can be used to access these government services online. Over the years, Mitek and Digidentity have enabled millions of GOV.UK Verify registrations.

To make the online onboarding process safe, secure and spoof-proof, the Mitek and Digidentity digital identity verification solution works via a combination of the world’s best forensic experts and most advanced banking-grade digital identity verification technology.

For the applicants, it means scanning an ID document and taking a selfie, with Mitek and Digidentity taking care of the rest. Mitek’s AI and machine learning is used to perform fully automated authentication checks, which fall back to human-assisted forensic checks for more severe or complex cases. This approach ensures that the process is fast and efficient and that the person registering with the service can be verified to be who they say they are.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in demand for GOV.UK Verify registrations, with successful applications peaking at 164,672 new profiles per week,” said Dick Dekkers, technology director at Digidentity.

“To meet this need, we worked tirelessly to scale up our digital verification solution to ensure applicants could register faster, without compromising on safety. Where digital identity verification is concerned, security always trumps speed to safeguard consumers from the risk of identity fraud.”

Max Carnecchia, CEO of Mitek, added: “We are proud to work with Digidentity, helping UK citizens and residents to access vital online services in these challenging times. Our priority is to ensure that residents can sign up for crucial UK government support services safely and securely when they need them most.”

The increasing sophistication of criminal forgeries mean that fraud detection technology needs to constantly evolve and improve. To ensure the highest integrity of the identity services provided to GOV.UK Verify, the data provided is matched against other authoritative sources, such as government databases and global organisations, including Interpol.

Identify fraud is increasingly common, enabled by ever-evolving digital technologies and online tools. E&T recently investigated online facial-recognition systems, reverse-engineering the process to reveal how the trend towards facial-recognition-supported online search could expose users to unexpected privacy risks.

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