The top 10 alleged social welfare fraud scams last year, which were investigated by an army of inspectors, added up to a whopping €1.6 million, with the biggest overpayment at €229,000.
The Central Prosecutions Office in the Department of Social Protection revealed that 264 cases were brought through the courts last year, resulting in 162 fines and seven prison sentences.
Under new powers, a special investigation unit has been tackling social welfare fraudsters living outside the country by carrying out probes at ports and airports.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said: “In total, approximately €49million in overpayments were classified as suspected fraud in 2014.”
At present, two of the top 10 fraudulent cases are in the court system, with the rest under consideration or being processed for prosecution. Fraudsters are tracked down both inside and outside the country by hundreds of inspectors in a bid to save the exchequer millions every year.
Earlier this year father-of-four David Church, from Parnell Street, Dublin, was sentenced to five years in prison for using false IDs to fraudulently claim almost €480,000 in social welfare payments over 12 years.
One of the biggest jail sentences was an eight-year term handed to a welfare cheat who scammed €249,000 from the State while living it up in Thailand, Australia, South America and Europe.
Former carpenter Paul Murray (below) was described in court as a professional fraudster who was shamelessly cheating the system while he travelled the world.
The Irish man, in his 60s, used multiple identities, mainly of family members, in what was described as one of the biggest individual fraudulent welfare claims ever in the State.
The court was told that Murray made the fraudulent claims and received the payments into multiple bank accounts, while holding seven international passports with seven driving licences.
Murray was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison in 2011 – the biggest sentence of its kind in the history of the State – but it was later reduced to an eight-year custodial sentence on appeal.
In July 2012 a six-month custodial sentence and €1,200 fine was imposed by the Circuit Court on an individual who was non-resident and who continued to claim social welfare payments. In September of the same year an individual was given 48 hours to leave the jurisdiction or face a 10-month custodial sentence and fined €1,500.
Over the past two years the government has clamped down on people claiming social welfare while residing outside the State, with inspectors now carrying out random investigations at ports and airports around the country.
New laws allow inspectors to question passengers at ports or airports in relation to claiming benefits from the State and ask them to produce ID and proof of their habitual residence.
Since the new powers were introduced in June 2012, inspectors have mainly been carrying out inspections at Cork, Shannon and Dublin airports. A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said the new measures have acted as a deterrent to non-residency welfare fraud.
Over 200 irregularities relating to people claiming fraudulent benefits outside the State have been detected over the past three years.