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Home / Expert Opinion / Fraud Facts: Facial recognition tech – not science fiction anymore

Fraud Facts: Facial recognition tech – not science fiction anymore

Gina Bliss

In 2002, when Tom Cruise appeared in the movie “Minority Report,” the capabilities of the facial recognition technology that was depicted were largely fiction. That technology has come a long way since then.

Now it has applications in marketing, law enforcement and fraud prevention. Facial recognition also has potential for abuse.

You can be outside in a public space, someone can take your picture without your knowledge and then run it through facial recognition software. A stranger can know your name, address and many personal details, including in some cases, your Social Security number. It’s that easy if your picture is on Facebook and then you do some additional data mining. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account of your own, chances are you’ve been tagged in photos posted by friends and family.

This is useful technology for marketers who want to track buying patterns and tailor promotions to past purchases. You can walk into a store, and the facial recognition system scans your face, matches it and brings up all your past data. You might be offered a discount on a purchase, and the offer will appear on your smart phone.

So, is this technology potentially dangerous or does it have enough positive applications to mitigate the risks that are inherent with it?

While there’s some risk of using it to commit identity theft, facial recognition technology is a useful tool in combating welfare fraud, bank and insurance fraud and identity theft. It verifies identity and credibility by comparing a real time image with a database. The same face can’t be used with more than one account and a different face can’t be used to access an existing account.

Last month, New York state officials announced that the use of facial recognition software for driver’s licenses has resulted in more than 2,500 arrests. The software has been in use since February 2010.

The focus of the facial recognition software at the Department of Motor Vehicles has been to get dangerous drivers off the roads. It identifies people who have suspended licenses, but are trying to get another license under a different name.

The facial recognition system compares new photos taken at DMV with existing photos in the database. If there’s a suspicious match, an investigation is launched. “This review includes new photos taken each day at the DMV, as well as approximately 20 million photographs already in DMV’s database,” the state said.

The results are surprising. The University at Albany’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research analyzed the data from the project and found:

• Approximately 50 percent of the subjects identified through facial recognition had one valid NYS license while having a second record that was suspended or revoked.

• Approximately 20 percent of the subjects identified through facial recognition were suspended or revoked under every known record.

• Approximately 30 percent of the subjects identified through facial recognition had multiple valid licenses.

The program has resulted in felony arrests. Over 100 individuals with active felony warrants were identified. Two individuals on the terrorist watch list tried to obtain new licenses under names that were “clear.”

One woman who was investigated for having two active identifications has been charged with multiple felony counts for collecting approximately $525,000 in fraudulent benefits from Social Security and the New York State Insurance Fund.

A licensed school bus driver had a second identity with multiple open suspensions for unpaid tickets and narcotics convictions. He’s been arrested and is no longer driving a school bus.

Unethical people can use facial recognition technology to defraud others. Important technological innovations usually come with some risk of abuse. The Internet is a prime example.

Facial recognition technology will compromise our privacy, but most Americans willingly give up some privacy by using social media.

The results of DMV’s use of facial recognition technology exceeded the goal of getting dangerous drivers off the road. Criminals were arrested, suspected terrorists were identified, insurance fraud was discovered and children were safe-guarded from a high risk bus driver. As a taxpayer in New York, I’m proud of those results.

I think the benefits of facial recognition technology do outweigh the risks.

Gina Bliss, CPA, CFE, is a senior manager at EFP Rotenberg LLP, Certified Public Accountants and Business Consultants, who specializes in internal audit, fraud audit and forensic accounting. She can be reached at (585) 295-0536 or by email at [email protected].