Police experts have been called in to investigate what Service NSW suspects is millions of dollars worth of fraud in the state’s COVID-19 business support payment program.
The department said micro-business grant payments were temporarily paused while it investigated “anomalies”, in some cases blaming “deliberate, coordinated fraudsters”.
In total, Service NSW said it had “so far” investigated suspected fraudulent applications worth $15.9 million, or 2.6 per cent of all paid applications.
Another $4.6 million in suspected fraudulent micro-business grant applications were blocked and more were still being investigated and stopped, according to authorities.
The NSW Police joined Service NSW investigators in Strike Force Sainsbery on Tuesday in response to the suspected fraud.
Service NSW CEO Damon Rees said the taskforce would identify those who had fraudulently sought payments.
“It is incredibly disappointing that deliberate, coordinated fraudsters have undermined the systems put in place to support the businesses of NSW in one of the most challenging times we have faced,” he said, in a press release issued on Tuesday afternoon.
“Service NSW is continually strengthening its fraud prevention and detection systems and takes action to report suspected fraudulent activity to the NSW Police and other law enforcement bodies.
“There are multiple checks and balances in place to ensure applications are properly reviewed and taxpayer funds go to those who meet the eligibility criteria and need it most.”
State Crime Commander Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said the NSW Police Force would be using a “state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system” to analyse and cross-reference large amounts of metadata.
“Let this be a warning to anyone who made a fraudulent application. It will not be long before we are knocking on your door,” he said.
Mr Rees said recurring payments had resumed, with 7500 applications processed overnight to Thursday and most other eligible payments expected to restart in the coming week.
Anyone who thought they might have made an error was in their claim was encouraged to contact Service NSW to repay.
The Service NSW business concierge team is available on 13 77 88 for assistance. Anyone with information can call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.