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Trust but verify: combating inspector fraud

By Linda Schwefel
February 22, 2022

In late 2021, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) encountered a severe problem. A former contract worker was accused of falsifying up to 3,000 electric system inspections over two years. The deception was revealed when a power pole, allegedly inspected and declared free of rot, collapsed into a residential backyard. It sent a live electrical wire into a swimming pool, fortunately without causing any injuries.

While PG&E scrambles to perform the missing inspections of areas of high risk for fire in the Sierra Foothills, it also is fielding serious questions about the supervision of its workers and contractors, and how the falsification of inspections could have gone on for so long undetected. Unfortunately, PG&E is not alone in the problem of falsified inspection reports – a simple Google search finds more than a few other examples:

Worker performing a field inspection using a tablet - combating inspection fraud

How digital field inspection platforms prevent inspector fraud

Companies need to ensure workers not only carry out inspections, but also do so competently and with integrity. With contractors handling more tasks and many working alone without direct oversight, ensuring accurate inspections is essential. A digital field inspection management platform, like Fulcrum’s, is key in this context. It offers features outlined below that move from simply hoping tasks are done right to being certain of their execution.

Native geolocation capabilities

In the inspector fraud scenarios described, using a digital inspection process with native geolocation would have detected fraud early. This process involves a basic cross-check of the inspection’s location against the inspector’s actual location, revealing any mismatches. Furthermore, with inspection locations preloaded into the system, inspectors couldn’t falsify data about unvisited sites. The system would indicate inspections occurring at other locations, such as the inspector’s home, a local bar, or even a tropical beach far away.

Required reference documentation

With a digital field inspection management platform, required inspection criteria can be made to include contemporaneous photos or videos, once again taken at the exact geographical location of the inspection site. As noted in some of the above instances of bogus inspections, inspectors would use old photos from a file to (falsely) show current conditions. Requiring inspectors to take photographs on site eliminates the possibility of recycling old inspection photos to prove a non-existent current inspection.

Integrated back office recordkeeping and reporting

With data from each inspection uploaded to a central database, inspection records become easily cross-checkable against past records, swiftly uncovering any discrepancies. Details like the duration of each inspection, the data collected, and the collection location are readily available. This information facilitates comparisons with data from previous inspections and other inspectors’ performances. Such a comprehensive comparison makes the discovery of inconsistencies almost certain.

Using technology to discourage inspector fraud

While in theory it’s possible that an inspector would drive to an inspection site and then fail to perform the inspection once there, simply filling in bogus information, it seems unlikely – as long as you’re there, why not actually do your job? Digital inspections make it easier to do the right thing (performing inspections) than the wrong thing (creating or copying the data needed to fake them).

In cases where an inspector’s issue isn’t with commuting to sites but with performing the inspection itself, their deception would still be exposed. This exposure comes through the mandatory documentation of photos and videos. Additionally, back-office reviews of past inspections and other inspectors’ job performance details would further reveal any dishonesty.

We admit that there is no surefire way to prevent inspector fraud, but we can make it harder for them to avoid detection – so much harder that potential slackers will likely simply quit and move on to easier (to grift) and greener pastures.

‍Why wait?

Join the over 2,500 Fulcrum customers who have improved field inspection processes and streamlined reporting with real-time, scalable data sharing. Sign up for our free trial today!