24 May 2022

Guest blog: Why local authorities must embrace technology that automates ID verification

Guest blog by Barley Laing, the UK Managing Director at Melissa

The pandemic has supercharged the number of councils which are engaging with and offering services to people online.

At the same time technology is evolving and people are increasingly recognising and prefer the ease of interacting digitally. With expectations influenced by their engagement with companies like Amazon and Google, which offer fast and secure access to services, the public expect all online interactions with organisations to be like this – friction-free.

As those in the public sector increasingly engage with people online, there’s been a corresponding growth in fraud. The Cabinet Office estimates that fraud and error costs the public purse up to £51.8 billion every year, with the Bounce Back Loan Scheme set up during the pandemic alone expected to cost the taxpayer £27 billion in fraud or credit losses. Such a high level of fraud necessitates that local authorities know who they are engaging with. It’s confirmation of identity that will prevent valuable budgets from being spent incorrectly, money that can be more appropriately targeted at frontline services.

Electronic identity verification (eIDV) technology

Technology that drives automation of the identity verification process is the answer. It’s by far the quickest, most accurate and cost-effective way to deliver ID verification in the online world. This requires adopting eIDV technology instead of undertaking manual ID checks that currently remain popular. Using an automated eIDV service supports cross-checks against an individual's contact data in real-time as they complete an online application process, while ensuring the user experience isn’t compromised.

It’s only by matching the name, address, date of birth, email, or phone number against reputable data streams such as government agency, credit agency and utility records, that local authorities can review an applicant’s residency and proof of address to determine their ‘right’ to access the service or support. The ability to verify age as part of this process means it’s possible to protect tight budgets only for those who qualify for assistance, and not a scammer.

Having real-time access to a dataset of billions of consumer records from reputable third parties (as already mentioned) and politically exposed person (PEP) data is essential for eIDV to work effectively. Ideally, it should also enrich records by highlighting and correcting any inaccuracies and adding missing data, such as telephone number, where available.

With eIDV it’s important to recognise that local authorities can strengthen their governance processes by aiding compliance with ‘know your customer’ (KYC) or citizen, and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations.

Biometric technology

In conjunction with eIDV, public bodies should consider the automated technology powering optical character recognition for its role in working with biometrics to verify identity. Based on human, physical and behavioural characteristics, its biometrics that provides individuals with fast and secure online access to their account, without the need for time-consuming security questions and passwords.

When the applicant to a service or product has scanned and provided their ID documents via their choice of device, biometric technology checks validity in real-time. The documents might include a passport or driver’s licence with a photo. The software then examines a selfie via an algorithm within the technology, comparing it with the master image from the ID documents. The algorithm ensures the reliability of the process by instantly distinguishing differences between the selfie and the ID image, including head position, skin imperfections, makeup, hairstyle and facial hair.

Automated vs manual checks

The automation of ID verification is significantly better than the manual, time consuming, and more costly checks that traditionally take place behind the scenes at public bodies for a number of reasons:

  • With a vast number of ID document types worldwide staff can’t be expected to know them all, which can cause review-related delays.
  • Employees are required to examine documents for authenticity, despite not always having specific training in identifying forged or fraudulent documents.
  • It can be uncomfortable and difficult for a staff member to thoroughly scrutinise photographs against the document holders.
  • With physical checks human error is always a possibility, making manual reviews less effective or stringent than they should be.
  • Records of ID checks can often be held in hard copy at various locations, making quality control difficult.
  • Operating manually does not usually allow for a quick response to changes, whether legislative or regulatory.
  • With public sector budgets under severe pressure is there any justification for continuing spending money on manual ID checks, when speed and accuracy are offered via automation?

The combination of public sector services moving online and the proliferation of fraud in the digital world makes it critical to undertake identity verification. However, it must involve utilising technology that helps to automate the process. The accuracy, speed and cost benefits offered by the automation powering eIDV and biometrics are far superior to any manual approach. This is why local authorities need to focus on automating identity verification today and in the future.

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Barley Laing, UK Managing Director at Melissa






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