Using social media and web searches to check program integrity can be a trap.

State and local government officials and investigators will use every tool to protect public trust in their institutions. Many have attempted to maintain program standards using social media and search engines. These free tools can be used to make decisions that affect program integrity, but they come with some pitfalls.

Google searches are the primary tool used by almost half (45%) of respondents to the Thomson Reuters Government Fraud, waste, and Abuse Survey 2021. This includes screening vendors and investigating fraud, waste, and abuse. Searching for names online usually yields the most popular profiles from social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. The survey also found that social media was used to confirm beneficiaries of benefit programs by more than double from 2019 to 2020. Advanced search technology has yet to be widely adopted by state and county governments.

Why do so many agencies depend on social media and online search engines for their crucial program integrity work? Three main factors are involved:

Use of search engines and social media is free

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the survey above said that lack of budget and resources was their most significant concern. It’s no surprise that most small agencies are limited by their budgets.

Accessible websites are the most popular.

Adopting and implementing new technology was the second most important factor for state agencies and local governments after the pandemic. Most government employees know how to use sites like Google and Facebook because of their popularity.

Even if some results are not helpful, they can still be used.

Although search engines and social media websites are not intended for investigative work, they can give reviewers an excellent starting point for further investigations. They can hint at whether or not more research is needed.

Many government officials are discovering that despite these benefits, the mentality of “don’t break what’s not broken” isn’t so practical. State and local program integrity experts are losing faith in the tools they use to investigate and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse of programs or vendors. While the use of social networks has increased, confidence in tools and resources to prevent fraud has decreased since last year. The number of respondents that felt very confident about their devices dropped from 27% to only 22%. Meanwhile, the segment of respondents who were unsure or in the middle grew from 44 to 51%. Why do more than half of our team members from state and local agencies feel less confident about their program integrity tools?

Search engines and social media sites are prone to three common mistakes when used for program integrity checking.

Money influences results

Paid advertising often affects the results of searches on Google and other sites. Social media searches are no different. If you are looking for someone or a vendor with a common name, you may find that the results are only those who have paid the highest price, not the person you are searching for.

The Internet is constantly changing.

Even if you are familiar with the famous sites, they will change. Social media sites are constantly changing, and search engines update their algorithms. You can expect that new sites will eventually overtake older ones.

Unreliable web results

Anyone who has used web-based tools long enough will tell you the results could be more consistent. Search engines customize their results to suit the person searching, so team members will find different information. It can be challenging to find interpersonal relationships, especially when you are dealing with a large number of results.

Search for CLEAR Results

The program integrity managers and vendors at local and state government agencies will need the appropriate tools to do their jobs. It is worth investing in protecting valuable dollars as well as the trust of the public at large by using a solution designed specifically for this purpose.

Thomson Reuters CLEAR provides the most current information from a collection of public record databases in a single, easy-to-use system. No additional installation is required, and your team receives in-depth training to ensure they are confident with the tool. CLEAR will help you investigate fraud by connecting people more efficiently than social media and free search engines. Get a demonstration to learn more about CLEAR and how it can help you avoid the pitfalls of free online search engines.

Thomson Reuters does not provide consumer reports; neither its services nor the data they contain are consumer reports as defined by the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. sec. 1681 et seq. The data you receive may not be used to determine a consumer’s creditworthiness, eligibility for insurance, housing, government benefits or employment, or any other purpose permitted under the FCRA. Using one of our services, you agree to not use the data or service for any purposes authorized under the FCRA or to take adverse action concerning a consumer’s application.

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