HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is preparing to launch a pan-government Transaction Protection tool using location data as an anti-fraud measure for the public sector.
It draws on Ordnance Survey’s AddressBase products and the unique property reference number (UPRN) held by GeoPlace to check on addresses registered to agencies and flag up when there could be a risk of fraud.
Andrew Letherby, head of monitoring, digital operations at HMRC, outlined the initiative at the GeoPlace conference in London. Letherby referred to an ongoing issue in which criminals often register a false address as part of an illegal activity, but said the tool could be used to warn of other types of fraud and further developed to provide other services.
It has been developed with the Government Digital Service and early efforts are being made to share it with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office, and it will soon be freely available for use by other parts of government.
It has emerged from HMRC’s internal address reputation service, which matches information from customers to AddressBase data to ensure it is correct and records the UPRN as a further reference – which can in turn make it possible to check against other sources inside the department to ensure its own data is consistent. This can be cross-checked with data from other organisations, including government departments, banks and credit reference agencies, to indicate whether there are anomalies that need to be examined.
The system also takes in automatic updates of AddressBase, which ensures the data is as up-to-date as possible.
Letherby said it is now being developed into the Transaction Protection tool, initially to provide an address reputation service across government.
“We started with the idea of let’s take our reputation services and see if we can build them across government to share the information we have in a real constructive way,” he said, adding that it should be available as an alpha service around the end of this month.
It uses open source code and will be available on the Github platform, although other bodies will be able to use it just by calling on the APIs created by HMRC.
“To validate an address you don’t have to download our page but just call our API and it will give you back matched address,” he said. “From there you can overlay the value.
“From our context it’s about fraud as it pertains to HMRC, so we can put a simple fraud flag on there to say you might want to look at this in the context of risk. It will not say it is fraudulent but that we have seen something that might cause you to question what’s going on.”
Initially, the department is working with DWP and the Home Office to build and integrate APIs so they will soon have a common tool for checking on addresses, but aso plans to make it available to central and local government.
“From our perspective we aim to have a centralised service available for any government body where you can validate an address, get good quality data matched against that in Address Base, gather your UPRN then map it across,” Letherby said.
“Then we are reaching out to lots more people in central government as they are the people with the money. We want to use central government money to enable core services that perhaps local government cannot invest in as they are not priorities. We can go out to local and regional government, tell them it works and that there is no cost apart from calling on our APIs.
“And possibly even private sector; some of the banks don’t do this stuff very well at the moment and they are interested. There are slightly different contexts as we have different licensing agreements for the underlying address based data, so we have to manage that, but it is theoretically possible.”
He said the first service will revolve around address reputation, but HMRC plans to iterate and develop the tool for other purposes.
It also has ambitions to share positive attributes about users, although Letherby said this will be further in the future as it will have to deal with complex issues around privacy and consent.