industry news Thursday 04 Mar 2021 @ 09:30 Embrace biometrics to improve access to public sector services online during the pandemic and prevent fraud


By Barley Laing, UK Managing Director at Melissa

The pandemic has supercharged the digitalisation process in the public sector, resulting in the placement of an increasing number of services online. After all, many people don’t want to go to enclosed spaces like public buildings to access services because the risk of catching Covid-19 is high. They also recognise the convenience of engaging digitally and are increasingly comfortable doing so.

Speed and efficiency

People don’t want to face a number of security questions and passwords to confirm their ID and access their accounts. They expect fast and secure online access to public sector services. Speed is critical when consumer expectations are shaped by the experiences provided by digital giants like Amazon and Apple. This results in increased pressure on the public sector to provide similarly friction-free and elegant interactions.

Also, speed is not only key when someone signs up to use or access a service for the first time, but when they attempt to log into their account or service online on an ongoing basis. They should be able to pass ID checks seamlessly, in real time.

Growth in online fraud

Since the first lockdown, there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of fraud attempts online. The Policy Exchange estimates fraud and error during the Covid-19 crisis is set to cost the UK Government £4.6 billion. A key factor is the haste at which new services have been introduced by the Government, particularly online, combined with inadequate security checks exacerbating the problem. In addition to these estimated losses, the National Fraud Authority predicts that £40 billion is lost to fraud in the UK's public sector over an average year.

Therefore, it’s critical that those in the public sector are engaging with the person they think they are. Confirmation of which will prevent valuable budgets from being taken by fraudsters, money that is needed to help the country get back on its feet as the health crisis abates. This requires the public sector to implement effective ID verification online, ideally in real time, at the point of access.

Take verification to the next level with biometrics

Biometrics is technology that enables organisations to digitally identify someone using physical or behavioural human characteristics – such as fingerprints, facial features, or voice. These are all unique identifiers that cannot be replicated, avoiding the need for time-consuming security questions or the frustration of forgotten passwords. Biometrics enables people to quickly and easily access their services or account, helping to deliver a positive experience. It’s this technology that’s already proving popular in seamlessly confirming the ID of prospective customers in other heavily regulated industries, such as banking. It is now attracting the attention of the public sector.

Biometrics works effectively as part of a suite of automated services, especially those that offer real time access to billions of consumer records from trusted entities. It’s only by having this wealth of data – from a Government agency, credit reporting agency, or utility companies, for example – that those in the public sector can confirm identity via the delivery of fast and accurate cross-checks against the data provided by an applicant (name, address, date of birth, email and phone number).

However, sometimes this is not enough. An extra level of security is required; which is where biometrics can play a vital role. With biometrics, once the applicant to a service or product has scanned and provided their primary ID document (such as a passport or driver's licence with a photo), its validity is checked in real time. The applicant then simply takes a selfie, which the software scrutinises via an algorithm within the technology, comparing it with the master ID image. The algorithm can instantly distinguish differences between the selfie and the ID image, including head position, hairstyle, skin imperfections, facial hair, makeup and age.

Confirm identity with ‘liveness’ checks

There’s been an increase in ‘spoofing’ which involves criminals using creative methods like 2D images and video playback to try to trick facial recognition technology and ‘prove’ they are the person they are impersonating. Liveness checks can stop this. This requires using technology that offers a ‘challenge response’. For example, by asking the individual to blink, which confirms eye movement and proof of life, it’s possible to establish that the person is real and not a static image. It provides additional confidence that the person being onboarded online is very definitely who they say they are.

Good software enhances the customer journey by ensuring that the lighting, sharpness, and quality of the images of the ‘live’ selfie and the ID document are sufficient to pass through the process. This includes storing customer due diligence report information the first time, every time. Additionally, using such software enables ID checks to be performed in just a few minutes, rather than waiting for a lengthy manual ‘back office’ check.

Automation is the way forward

Because biometrics and broader eIDV services are automated processes, they are much more attractive than the physical, time consuming, and costly verification activity that traditionally takes place behind the scenes at public bodies. Bear in mind manual checks are subject to human error, coupled with a lack of training, that can mean the entire verification process is not as effective and stringent as it must be. With Government agency budgets under massive pressure during the health crisis and staff possibly on furlough, biometrics is one of several essential eIDV tools that offer a rapid and cost-effective technological solution to ID verification.  

Don’t forget that biometrics also ensures those in the public sector are compliant with regulations, such as know your customer (KYC) or citizen and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. 

With so much strain and competing priorities on the public sector at this time, it can be challenging to go the extra mile to stop a wilful thief. However, it need not be this way because of the availability of automated eIDV services, particularly biometrics, which can help take the digital verification process a step further. However, it’s important those in the public sector focus on biometric technology that delivers liveness checks as an extra layer of verification to help prevent fraud, speed up and improve the experience of those accessing their services. 

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