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Trust but verify: combating inspector fraud

By Linda Schwefel
February 22, 2022

Late in 2021, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) faced a nightmare scenario: a former contract worker was alleged to have falsified as many as 3,000 electric system inspection reports over the last two years. The fake inspection results came to light when a power pole that had been supposedly inspected and found free of rot collapsed into a residential backyard, sending a live electrical wire into a swimming pool. (Luckily, no one was injured.)

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:

How digital field inspection platforms prevent inspection fraud

Clearly, companies must be concerned not only about getting workers to do inspections, and having those inspections performed competently, but also about inspectors being honest and diligent in their duties. As contractors perform more tasks, and more people work alone in the field without immediate supervision, it’s never been more important to ensure that they’re doing inspections right.  Here’s where a digital field inspection management platform (like that offered by Fulcrum) can make the difference between hoping work is being done to being certain with features including:

  1. Native geolocation capabilities. For all the bogus inspection scenarios listed above, had the inspections been performed using a digital inspection process with native geolocation, the fraud would have been discovered early – a simple cross check of location of inspection versus actual location of inspector would have revealed the discrepancy. In addition, with preloaded inspection locations, inspectors would not even be able to enter falsified inspection information about a site they were not at – the record would show an inspection was being made at some new location (maybe the inspector’s home, a neighborhood watering hole, or perhaps even a thousand miles away on a tropic beach – who knows?).
  2. 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.
  3. Integrated back office recordkeeping and reporting. With all the data collected at each inspection being uploaded to a central database, inspection records can be cross-checked against previous inspection records to quickly discover discrepancies. From the time it takes to perform each inspection, to what is data collected, to the location the data is collected, it’s all readily available to compare against data from prior inspections, and also against other inspectors’ performance, making the likelihood of discovery all but certain.

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).

Even in those cases where an inspector doesn’t object to the commute to the inspection sites so much as the performance of the inspection itself, his or her deception would be uncovered through the documentation requirements of photos and/or videos as well as back-office checks against past inspections and other inspector job performance details.

We admit that there is no surefire way to prevent some people from failing to perform their jobs, 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 30-day trial today!