Friday, April 12, 2013

Technology to Locate Tax Evaders

I ran across a little Associated Press piece in my local paper about Lithuania using Google Streetview to do searches for people who failed to report upgrades to their property for tax purposes. When I searched for the AP report, I found a piece from Baltic Business  about Estonia following Lithuania's example, published December, 2012. 
T├Ánis Kuuse, head of the information department of the Estonian Tax Authority, said ... "It’s an additional information source that we can use to check on real estate, for instance in case when a person who has declared minimum income is living in a very valuable house." 
Kuuse explained that Google Streetview is only one of a number of tools the Tax Authority uses to catch tax scofflaws. Like Lithuania's tax officials, they use the streetview snapshot as the basis to alert them to go in person to look at the real estate.  They have discovered instances of property owners who sell, and report the land as unimproved, sold for a much lower price.  Then they spot a new building on the Google Streetview, go to inspect and prove that the plot sold for a much higher price. It's sort of an investigative tool that gives the inspectors a probable cause to look further at the case.

Similarly, I found a report here about Irish revenue officials using Google Streetview and Google Earth to locate similarly under-reported property taxes and real estate sales.  The same blog post mentions that New York had used Google Earth to locate in-ground swimming pools that had not been reported. A report in 2010 also told of the Greek government using Google Earth to locate tax evaders.  In a similar vein, the Pappas Group reported in 2010 on efforts by the Oklahoma and federal revenue officials to use social websites like Facebook and Twitter to catch tax evaders.

And TechnoBuffalo repeats much of this, but adds that the IRS seems to be planning to check citizens' e-mails for evidence of tax cheating. And it seems they believe they can do so without a warrant to uncover evidence of tax fraud. 

Just in time to make you shiver for tax day. 

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