Alabama uses facial recognition to stop tax fraudBy Shahriyar Emami | 02/07/2018 10:11pm
In an age when everyone’s identity is collected onto their phones and mobile devices, the Alabama Department of Revenue and IDEMIA, a security company, have partnered together to release an app to protect residents against tax refund theft.
“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” said Mark DiFraia, vice president of IDEMIA’s Digital Identity. “We see eID [electronic ID] playing a big role in electronic government and digital transformation at the state level across the nation.”
DiFraia said Alabama is the first state in the country to offer this technology.
“We partnered based on the Department reaching out to us," DiFraia said. "They were very, very proactive back when this was all coming together."
The Georgia Department of Revenue was participating in a similar project, but the project was put on hold, DiFraia said. Once the commissioners of both states spoke to one another, Alabama became interested in taking up the project and offering it to Alabama residents. A limited release was first made available in spring 2017.
A press release went out announcing the deployment of the Alabama eID app on Jan. 29. The press release describes how the app works to identify applicants.
The eID app acts as an online credential, DiFraia said. A few steps must be taken to set up a person’s eID. This process involves scanning a driver’s license, taking a selfie and matching it with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).
“After that, it gets used time and time again to login to websites or to authorize transactions which can be done by using things like your biometrics as a trigger to approve or deny a transaction," DiFraia. "It allows you to navigate a website and allows you to authorize things."
The Alabama Department of Revenue’s website is the first website available to use eID. A selfie feature is supposed to be used to approve transactions.
“The federal government and the state have been fighting tax fraud for years, especially with identity theft … [eID] is just something that the taxpayer can actively do to help us ensure that the return is filed by the real taxpayer,” said Kathleen Abrams, director of individual and corporate tax at the Alabama Department of Revenue.
According to the Alabama Department of Revenue’s website, someone may be the victim of identity theft if someone else filed a tax report in their name; if there’s an outstanding balance on a previous year that the person didn’t file a return during; or if there are confirmed IRS records of wages from an employer the person never worked for.
Abrams said in many cases a taxpayer doesn’t know their identity has been stolen to file a return until they go to file one and get rejected since somebody has already filed one under their name. That’s what the app is supposed to help with.
“It’s just extra protection,” Abrams said. “It can also speed up the issuance of your refund if you are getting a refund because we don’t have to stop and look at things behind the scenes to figure out if you’re a real taxpayer trying to file your returns.”
For those who think the app is unnecessary, eID is an optional service.
“[The] public are gonna find that they are gonna be presented with options and tools that will do a much better job of protecting their identities,” DiFraia said. “There will be some homework to do to figure which ones are gonna work best for them and which ones they trust and which ones they don’t.”
Aside from the optional tax refund protection app, IDEMIA is in the process of issuing driver’s licenses to mobile devices starting this year. DiFraia said it’s the next generation of the driver’s license.