HM Revenue and Customs is preparing to launch a pan-government Transaction Protection tool using location data as an anti-fraud measure for the public sector. 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 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.  AddressBase enables you to link additional information about a property to over 28 million addresses from Royal Mail’s postal address file and locate it on a map.

Andrew Letherby, head of monitoring, digital operations at HMRC, outlined the initiative, referring to an ongoing issue in which criminals often register a fake 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 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. 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. 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 also plans to make it available to central and local government.

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 this is planned for further in the future as it will have to deal with complex issues around privacy and consent.