Tallahassee, Fla. -- Florida has developed a more effective way to safeguard billions of tax dollars from fraud, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
On Tuesday, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins announced Florida is implementing new technology that's expected to save the state more than $80 million a year.
DCF pays out $27 billion a year in temporary food, medical and cash assistance to low-income people.
But an estimated 3 to 5 percent of that cash gets ripped off by identity thieves and other criminals.
Now DCF is starting to use a new customer authentication program to identify and crack down on fraud.
Wilkins said the new program will cost about $1 million a year to operate but it should generate bigger savings.
"We think that this system alone will generate over $60 million in savings in avoidance of food stamp and public assistance fraud just in the first year of use. So what a great return on investment," Wilkins said.
Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported ID theft in the nation according to Wilkins.
He described the case of a young mother in Miami with two children who received her initial food stamp benefits, but within two days, someone stole her ID and took over her account.
The woman ultimately lost those benefits.
Wilkins said the example highlights the damage such crimes have on families who need help.
The state is also launching an ad campaign about the new crackdown on fraud.
Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones, who is also a member of Florida's Medicaid and public assistance strike force, says the campaign has a simple message for would-be thieves.
"I want to put those individuals who choose to commit these crimes to be on notice that if you commit the fraud, we will find you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law," Jones said.
Wilkins said another program that verifies applicants' assets will save the state an additional $25 million.
First Coast News