There is a risk of more than 800 fraudulent COVID-19 payments in New Brunswick

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The New Brunswick auditor general disclosed that there is a risk of more than 800 fraudulent payments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because of lack of a control mechanism on validating social insurance numbers.

During the peak of the pandemic, the government in New Brunswick moved to assist people who’d been laid off and were waiting on federal financial assistance. It rolled out the one-time $900 New Brunswick Workers’ Emergency Income Benefit.

Auditor general Janice Leahy said the application asked for a social insurance number but it lacked the typically used formula to validate social insurance numbers.

She said that social insurance numbers in online applications usually have a formula to make sure the number is valid, but in the one used by the province, “it seemed like any combination of numbers could be entered.”

Leahy said that “(It) didn’t allow that formula when you ran it to say, ‘That’s a valid social insurance number,’ so there was no control over the field itself and that process of not having a control over the field led into some of the errors we saw with social insurance numbers.”

She said 827 fraudulent benefits were paid out to New Brunswickers.

Despite the report showing these finds, the Department of Post Secondary Education Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder made no apologies on Friday for how the program rolled out.

“We had to get a recommendation to the COVID all-party cabinet committee as quickly as possible so that we had something in place,” he said, speaking to reporters. “We had to negotiate with the Red Cross to get something in place in a matter of days and I’m very proud of the work we did under extreme pressure.”

Holder said the government may take legal action against those who made fraudulent claims to obtain the one-time benefit.

The report’s further findings

The report does give leeway to the fact the government department operated under a tight timeline but that the planning process resulted in a weak service contract and a lack of key processes during the program delivery.

There were poor controls over the processes — tied directly to those fraudulent social insurance numbers and potential payments.

It did not have adequate program monitoring, she said in her report, adding that the program has a lack of transparency and accountability.

Leahy made 14 recommendations to improve funding programs like these for any future situations.

This article was originally sourced by Global News.