FILE - fraud alert

(The Center Square) – After widespread pandemic fraud over the last two years, nearly seven out of 10 Michiganders are concerned about identity fraud.

John Zogby Strategies, a survey research firm, polled 604 likely Michigan voters between April 29 and June 3 of this year, garnering data about digital identity verification in the public sector.

They also polled 605 likely voters in Arizona, 604 in Georgia, and 605 in Ohio.

“Voters in these states are on red alert about how their personal information is being used and what the government is doing to verify identity and stop fraud,” John Zogby, the founder of John Zogby Strategies, said in a statement. “At least right now, voters in these four states are concerned that government isn’t doing enough to verify digital identities and protect people’s most sensitive personal information.”

People polled trusted online retail stores to verify identity better than the public sector.

Michiganders’ top concerns were as follows:

  • 77% were concerned about selling or distributing personal information to third parties.
  • 64% were concerned about ensuring the government knows it's dealing with the intended citizen rather than someone else.
  • 63% of Michigan respondents preferred a government agency to integrate 3rd party service into the application process.
  • 60% were concerned that someone other than them could access government benefits using their identifiable information.
  • 60% were concerned about the overall accuracy of government identity verification process.

Zogby told The Center Square in a Zoom interview that there is “an unprecedented period of distrust across the board, but particularly distrust in government.”

Michigan estimates losing $8.5 billion to unemployment fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, but LexisNexis, a fraud prevention company, says that number is closer to $11 billion. The state has disbursed over $39 billion in benefits to more than 3.3 million workers since March 15, 2020.

In fiscal year 2020-2021, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services budget totaled $28.4 billion, nearly half of the total budget. Much of those billions are money and service transfers, including public assistance, child welfare, and medical services. The government enacts fraud prevention, but Zogby said that hackers constantly update their attacks.

“With each new stride in identity validation, there’s someone out there that can break it,” Zogby said.

It’s unclear how much money the state and federal government could save if it accurately identified residents and disbursed benefits while rejecting fraudulent applications.

“It’s rather remarkable when you think of the tens of millions who receive social security, Medicare, and Medicaid – of the whole variety of government largesse [from] the government directly to individuals,” Zogby said. “In that sense, what would be a horrible mess it would be if checks don’t come or go to the wrong folks, or if the IRS is investigating the wrong people.”

The survey found that respondents want interacting with the government to be easy, but about two out of three people believe it isn’t. Other top concerns were that facial recognition and other advanced identification techniques could discriminate depending on race.

The margin of error for each sample is +/- 4.1 percentage points.

“State governments have significant work to do to make the system of verifying. identity online simpler and easier to use,” Zogby said. “Right now, there is frustration with the current system and the friction that people experience when trying to access public services.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.