Probe finds more permafund fraud

Posted: Wednesday, November 02, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Permanent Fund dividend investigators are using high-tech methods and other means to expand efforts to root out fraud.

Investigators have worked with the Division of Elections to track people who voted out of state and used technology that identifies where people signed on to the Internet to determine whether they were truthful about being in Alaska while filling out the online form.

Investigators also have used subpoenas to go after cannery workers who do not live in Alaska year-round and people with private mailboxes forwarded to the Lower 48.

The permanent fund dividend investigative unit's efforts have resulted in the agency recovering $1.4 million from the 2004 dividend program, up from $1.2 million in 2003. Investigators predict 2005 will yield $1.6 million recovered.

"It rankles all Alaskans who are legitimate Alaskans to think there are those who take advantage of this program," said Permanent Fund Dividend Division Director Sharon Barton. "It was overdue."

The state this fall sent out about 603,000 dividend checks worth $846 apiece. Revenue staffers rejected about 28,000 applications.

To be eligible for the dividend, an applicant must be a resident who has lived in Alaska the entire previous year. People are not allowed to leave for more than 180 days. There are allowable absences, such as for students attending college.

The division for years has pursued criminal investigations on cases associated with identify theft, forgery and Social Security fraud, said chief investigator Dan Boone. To turn every fraud into a full-blown criminal case would be impossible, he said.

"If we criminally prosecuted everything we could, we'd bog down the courts," he said.

This year, dividend investigators started a formal audit program. From last year's 3,000 audit investigations, audits increased to 8,000.

Coupled with an increase in the number of tips, from 950 in 2003 to 1,575 this year, the number of investigations has dramatically increased.

About half the investigations lead to denials of dividends, Boone said.

Dividend investigators for several years have worked with the Department of Motor Vehicles to check people who apply for out-of-state licenses and people who have Alaska driver's licenses but pick up traffic tickets in the Lower 48. The agency also looks at people who decline jury duty, claiming they are not an Alaska resident.

Investigators this year expanded their work with other agencies. They asked the Division of Elections for a list of people who registered to vote in another state, resulting in 80 percent of those people being denied applications, Boone said.

Being able to identify where a person signs on to the Internet while they fill out the dividend form is a new tool that will be useful in the future because of the increase in online applications, Boone said.

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