Data Exposed Reveals Tourism Allowance Fraud
(CNS): An embarrassing mistake for the Department of Labor last month, when around 3,000 names and email addresses of tourist allowance recipients were accidentally made public by WORC staff, a number of fraudulent claims, Labor Minister Chris Saunders said. the data breach will lead to the prosecution of several people after “widespread and disturbing allegations of fraud” raised serious concerns, he added.
“While I was very unhappy with the clerical error that led to the inadvertent data breach, since then we have had several reports of alleged fraud against stipend recipients, which is a matter of grave concern,” Saunders said and revealed that some fraudulent claimants have been reported by their own family members.
“While I am sure the large number of recipients really need help, unfortunately some in our society are determined to get money for doing nothing. This state of mind is not Caymanian. The fact that some of the people who reported suspected fraud are family members confirms that we still live in a society where people value decency and honesty,” the minister said.
“Individuals who seek to defraud the government are essentially stealing public funds that could be better spent helping those who are truly vulnerable and in need of help,” Saunders added. He said his departmental team had worked hard to identify the suspected fraud cases, which have now been referred to CHIN’s Financial Crimes Investigation Unit with the intent of prosecution.
From the outset, payments were based on an honor system and few checks were issued. The criteria required applicants to provide affidavits regarding their employment and financial status.
A self-declaration survey was carried out by the Ministry of Labor in January this year after it took over responsibility for disbursing allowances from the Ministry of Tourism. This survey relied on the honesty of recipients in listing their updated employment status, with the aim of weeding out those who had obtained full-time employment since the gradual reopening of the tourism industry.
In this survey, more than 600 people said they had returned to full-time employment and had been moved to a reduced payment schedule and left the benefit. But the majority of beneficiaries remained on the list at the time of full payment. Saunders said since then some people have also come forward and returned payments they received in error or after returning to work.
“We are grateful to those who chose to be honest and stood up to do their part to make sure the money was a priority for those who still needed it,” the minister added, but said that all the world was not so honest.
‘We also discovered that there were four people incarcerated at HMPS Northward who were receiving the allowance, at least one of whom was already in prison when the allowance was instituted,’ he said. “One has since been released, but the others are currently in jail receiving monthly payments until March 2022.”
Saunders pointed out that the payments were an emergency measure introduced during the lockdown by the former administration. He said he supported the decision to provide much-needed aid to thousands of families who have been financially impacted by the global pandemic overnight.
“It was the right thing to do then, it’s the right thing to do now, and we shouldn’t let those who seek to exploit the scheme for financial gain undermine the quality of this program, because many of our people are still in need of help. Many of our associates have done the right thing by reporting cases of suspected fraud, and their courage and decency now compel us to act. We cannot afford to sweep this under the rug,” he said.
Funds for the tourist allowance program have been approved through June, but anyone who is still receiving the money and no longer meets the criteria of a legitimate claim is being asked to voluntarily remove themselves from the list of recipients. Another mandatory survey has now been launched for all benefit recipients, which they must complete to be paid next month.
For more information or to report suspected fraudulent activity relating to the payment of the allowance, write to [email protected] or call 649-6932.