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Learning English - Words in the News
07 May, 2008 - Published 14:01 GMT
Lie detectors target fraud
The voice-risk analyser equipment detects changes in voices

The British Government is to spend 1.5 million ($3m) on lie detectors to try to catch people making fraudulent benefit claims. It says a pilot scheme in seven areas has already produced significant savings - and it wants to expand it. This report from Oliver Conway:

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Lie detectors are already used by the insurance industry to combat fraud. Now the government wants 15 local councils to do the same when assessing claims for benefit payments. A trial scheme has already proved successful, and the government thinks it could save $60 million a year by using it more widely.

The system analyses speech patterns over the phone - picking up tiny voice tremors as claimants answer a series of questions. This can then be used, along with other factors, to assess how stressed the caller is - and whether their claim needs further investigation. James Plaskitt is the work and pensions minister:

PLASKITT: The operators that we train to run this have got the printouts from the system on their screen. But they're also listening for audible clues of phrases, or hesitation perhaps when they're thinking about how to answer a question. So you've got multiple indicators working for you, and if there are enough of them, it suggests that that call is risky.

In the pilot scheme, about 3 in every 100 calls were flagged up. The claims involved then went through more rigorous checks before being authorised.

Critics say lie detectors do not work - and genuine claimants, particularly those with a poor grasp of English, could be put off from applying for benefits. However, other language versions, such as one in Gujurati, are planned - and the government says it will use any technology it can to catch the tiny minority of fraudsters who cost the tax payer millions of dollars a year.

Oliver Conway, BBC

Listen to the words

to combat fraud
to stop people receiving money they are not legally entitled to but still try to get by being dishonest

assessing claims for benefit payments
deciding if applications for receiving money from public funds are legitimate

speech patterns
your speech pattern is the way you pronounce separate sounds, words and word combinations

picking up tiny voice tremors
noting wavering sounds, i.e.very small changes/vibrations/modulations in a sound

people who, for various reasons (e.g. unemployment or disability), apply for financial help from public funds

further investigation
more careful examining

multiple indicators
many signs/signals

flagged up
here, drawn attention to/marked as risky

a poor grasp of
if you have a poor grasp of a language, you don't speak it very well

put off

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