Investigators and program integrity professionals at state and local government agencies will use any tool they can to help protect the public’s trust in their institutions. In the face of growing challenges, many have tried to use common search engines and social media sites to help them maintain program standards. But relying on these free options to help make important program integrity decisions comes with several pitfalls.
In the 2021 Thomson Reuters Government Fraud Waste and Abuse survey, almost half of the government professionals who responded (45%) reported that Google searches were their primary tool for vendor screening or fraud, waste, and abuse investigations. When searching for names online, the top results usually include user profiles on popular social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Likewise, the survey found that the use of social media to confirm benefit program beneficiaries doubled from 2019 to 2020. This indicates that more advanced search technologies have yet to be widely adopted at state and county levels.
So, why do so many agencies rely on online search engines and social media sites for their vital program integrity work? There are three primary factors:
1. Search engines and social media are free to use
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents in the above survey said that the lack of resources and budget was their biggest concern. With the financial limits placed on most smaller agencies, it’s not surprising that the cheapest solutions would be the most commonly used.
2. The most popular websites are also the most accessible
Besides the challenges presented by the pandemic, the next most concerning factor for state and local agencies was the adoption and implementation of new technology. Because of their popularity, most government employees are already familiar with sites like Google or Facebook and can use them easily.
3. Some results can still be useful
Even though search engines and social media sites are not designed for investigative work, they can certainly give reviewers a good starting point for further investigation. If nothing else, they can give a hint as to whether more digging is even needed.
Despite these perks, many government professionals are finding that the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mentality isn’t working so well. State and local program integrity specialists are losing confidence in the tools they use to prevent and investigate program or vendor fraud, waste, and abuse. Our survey found that while the use of social media has risen, confidence in the tools and resources necessary to prevent fraudulent activity dropped since last year. The number of respondents who felt very confident in their tools fell from 27% to just 22%, while the segment of those who were in the middle or not confident grew from 44% up to 51%. So why are more than half of our state and local agency team members feeling less than confident in their program integrity tools?
It could be because using search engines and social media sites for program integrity checks comes with these three common pitfalls:
1. Results are influenced by money
While it’s free to search for things on sites like Google, the results are often affected by paid advertising. The same can be said of social media searches. So, if you’re looking for a person or vendor with a common name, chances are that the first results you’ll find are actually just those who paid the most, and not who you really want.
2. The internet is always changing
While you might be familiar with popular sites as they are now, things are bound to change. Search engines constantly update their algorithms, while social media sites have ever-evolving landscapes. New sites may eventually outgrow old ones, so you can expect to find everyone in the same place for long.
3. Web results are unreliable
Anyone who has tried to use web-based tools for long can tell you that the results are inconsistent. Search engines tailor their search results to best suit those who are looking, so different team members may find different info. Finding inter-personal connections is often difficult, and the sheer volume of results that you have to dig through can make this extremely time-consuming
Get CLEAR results from your searches
In the end, program and vendor integrity managers at state and local government agencies need the right tools for their job. Protecting valuable dollars and the public’s trust at large is worth investing in a solution that is specifically designed for these purposes.
Thomson Reuters CLEAR delivers the most up-to-date information from a large collection of public records databases, all in one, easy-to-use system. There is no additional installation required and your team will get in-depth training with the tool to make sure they feel confident. And CLEAR can aid your investigative efforts to fight fraud, connecting subjects more easily than free search engines and social media sites can. Learn more about how CLEAR can help your team avoid the pitfalls of free online search tools and get a personal demonstration.
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