Money being paid to Scottish benefits cheats has almost doubled in just a year — but almost half of them have only received a caution.
An investigation has revealed that benefit fraud cost the taxpayer £23.2m in the last financial year, up almost £10m from the £13.4m which was illegally claimed in 2010/11.
But little over a third of the fraudsters are facing prosecution and most have escaped without even having to pay a fine.
The Department of Work and Pensions claimed that the massive increase in the overpayments figure had occurred simply because government investigators were getting better at detecting cheats.
However, officials were unable to confirm how much of the money had actually been recouped and insisted that many of those detected were not taken before the courts because it was deemed too costly to prosecute them.
Over 15,000 separate probes into alleged fraud were launched in Scotland last year, after which 5097 individuals were detected.
The investigations followed tip offs from a range of sources which suggested Scots were claiming benefits to which they were not entitled, including disability living allowance, jobseekers allowance and housing benefit.
But only 1580 people were referred to the procurator fiscal to be considered for prosecution, while 2801 were simply given a caution. A further 716 received an administrative penalty.
The Department of Work and Pensions said that radical reforms to the welfare system set to come into force next year would leave the system less open to fraud.
A spokeswoman from the body's Edinburgh office said: "The overpayment amounts only relate to fraud investigations and do not relate to the total amount of benefit fraud that is actually committed.
"The increase in overpayment amounts is due to the fact that our Fraud Investigation Service has found more fraud and stopped it."
Welfare reform minister, the Conservative peer Lord David Freud, added that the controversial welfare reforms — under which £2.5 billion will be slashed from Scotland's benefit budget by Westminster — would help get tough on fraudsters.
He said: "Benefit thieves are costing the taxpayer over £1bn per year. This money is intended to help those most in need, not line the pockets of criminals.
"We will continue to tackle this problem at the frontline but also at the root by reforming the benefits system to make it less open to abuse.
"Universal Credit will simplify and automate the benefits system to make it less open to abuse and ensure this money is going to those who need it the most.
"We always push for the strongest possible punishment for benefit thieves who are stealing money from the people who need it the most.”
However, campaign group Taxpayer Scotland expressed outrage at the figures — with members remaining doubtful that changes to the benefits system would solve the problem.
Spokesman Eben Wilson said: "The continual leakage of Scottish taxpayers' money through the benefits system is disgraceful. A huge amount of money is being wasted.
"The fact that yet more money has been badly spent this year shows that our civil servants are not performing well on our behalf.
"Our MSPs should be shouting loudly on our behalf for the government to get a grip on this misuse of funds.
"All hard-working taxpayers should be appalled that the levels of fraud are not improving. The penalties being imposed appear to be trivial and a more robust approach needs to be considered."