Suspicions were aroused at statutory board SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) when its data analytics system flagged the unusual nature of thousands of SkillsFuture claims made last month - all 4,400 were for one particular training course which the claimants did not attend.
It said yesterday that $2.2 million had been paid out for these false claims, in the largest case of abuse to hit the SkillsFuture Credit scheme.
The SSG, which comes under the Education Ministry, has sent letters to the claimants to demand they return the money in 30 days.
It added in its statement: "SSG takes this abuse of the SkillsFuture Credit very seriously and will take the necessary action against these individuals."
Under the law, those who give false information to the SSG can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for 12 months, or given both penalties.
The case came to light after the data analytics system flagged the claims that were mostly submitted towards the end of last month, and for the same course.
SSG declined to name the training provider or the course.
The SkillsFuture Credit scheme, rolled out in January last year, gives Singaporeans aged 25 and older $500 in credits to pay for training courses.
People can enrol in a course without paying, and the training providers will then claim the training fees from SSG.
Alternatively, they can pay for the course fees first, and then enter a claim on SSG's online system to be reimbursed.
SSG said SkillsFuture Credit is given to Singaporeans to encourage them to learn new skills, and "in this spirit, the course directory and claims process were designed to be simple, inclusive and user-friendly".
"It is regrettable that some individuals have abused the system and submitted false claims," it said without giving details on how the fake claims were approved.
SSG chief executive Ng Cher Pong said that since the fraud was uncovered, the agency has stepped up its audit and enforcement checks.
For instance, it is doing more checks on training providers and claims by individuals, and has strengthened the sensitivity of its data analytics system to highlight anomalies.
A committee comprising SSG board members has also been set up to strengthen the policies and procedures for the processing and disbursing of training-related claims to individuals, employers and training providers.
It is also running mystery shopping audits to address unethical or misleading marketing practices.
Before the incident, the number of false claims made each month had been low, with about 80 claims detected monthly in the past few months, said SSG.
The statutory board had previously sent warning letters to 144 individuals and 15 training providers for other breaches of terms and conditions not relating to fraud.
SSG also investigated six training providers, with the Commercial Affairs Department taking action against three of them. The remaining three are still being investigated.
Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said a strong message should be sent to people who try to cheat the system, adding that they should be dealt with by the law.
"It is unfortunate that some people are abusing the system," he said.