4,400 caught making S$2.2 million worth of bogus SkillsFuture Credit claims

4,400 caught making S$2.2 million worth of bogus SkillsFuture Credit claims
TODAY file photo
Published: 5:09 PM, February 24, 2017
Updated: 11:44 PM, February 24, 2017

SINGAPORE — Towards the end of last month, something unusual happened at SkillsFuture Singapore: Thousands of claims for SkillsFuture Credits came flooding in, for the same course. 

These claims, amounting to some S$2.2 million, turned out to be bogus. About 4,400 individuals had submitted false claims, encashing their SkillsFuture Credit without attending any courses.

Revealing this in a press release on Friday (Feb 24), SkillsFuture Singapore said the anomaly was flagged its data analytics system. This is the “first such spike” in number of false claims, the statutory board said. It has sent these individuals letters demanding that they return the money, within 30 days of receiving the letter.

Under the SkillsFuture national movement announced in 2015, Singaporeans aged 25 and above receive a S$500 credit from the Government to attend courses by approved training providers, which include polytechnics and private providers.

Users can choose to first pay for courses out of their own pockets, then submit a claim to SkillsFuture with payment details and supporting documents, such as a receipt of payment issued by the course provider. There is also an option for the credit to be paid directly to course providers.

SkillsFuture Singapore said its course directory and claims process were designed to be simple, inclusive and user-friendly, to encourage usage. “It is regrettable that some individuals have abused the system and submitted false claims,” the agency said in a press release. 

Most of the cheats in this case — over two-thirds — submitted claims towards the end of January. Saying it is investigating the matter, the agency declined to give further details on the course and the training provider.

Before this recent rash of false claims, SkillsFuture Singapore had detected about 80 false claims each month. It has tightened its enforcement system, such as by conducting “mystery shopping audits” to catch unethical and misleading marketing practices, strengthening the sensitivity of its data analytics system to detect anomalies, and stepping up the frequency of checks and audits on training providers and individual claims.

A committee comprising SkillsFuture Singapore board members has also been set up to review policies and procedures of training-related claims and disbursements to training providers, employers, and individuals.

Asked if there is a risk of the claims system being compromised, SkillsFuture Singapore said: “The SkillsFuture Credit System has never been compromised ... SSG’s enforcement system involves data analytics to detect anomalies, regular audits of training providers, and manual audits of individual claims. These measures have allowed SSG to uncover false SkillsFuture Credit claims.  We will continue to strengthen the sensitivity of our data analytics system in flagging out anomalies.” 

With regards to previous false claims, SkillsFuture said it has recovered some of the monies, and is in the process of recovering the rest.

Last July, the former Workforce Development Agency — which has since been restructured into Workforce Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore — warned the public of a training organisation attracting Singaporeans to sign up for courses using vouchers, then claiming their SkillsFuture Credit via SingPass. 

New guidelines were issued last month to prevent training providers from using gimmicks like lucky draws and freebies to promote their programmes. On its website, SkillsFuture Singapore has also warned of an alleged scam circulating via SMS or WhatsApp, informing Singaporeans how they can convert their SkillsFuture Credit into cash with a step-by-step guide. 

Under the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency Act, those who provide false information to the agency can be jailed up to 12 months, or fined up to S$10,000, or punished with both.