Share this content

Tax dodgers beware: Big Brother is watching

12th Apr 2013
Share this content

News reached AccountingWEB this week that tax authorities in Lithuania have started using Google Maps Street View to crack down on tax dodgers.

From the moment Google Maps was rolled out in the Baltic state earlier this year, it didn’t take them long to start uncovering tax violations, involving housing construction and property sales, from afar.

Is it now inevitable that other tax authorities across the world will turn to high-resolution maps, online databases, and social media to catch out tax cheats?

Already the US’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been cross-referencing information from taxpayers' Facebook and Twitter accounts if their tax returns throw up any red flags; while closer to home HMRC has been using web-crawling software to trawl auction websites such as Ebay and Gumtree for undeclared sales.

Given HMRC’s increased social media presence in recent months, we were also left wondering how long it would be for the Revenue to start using Twitter and Facebook to go after people and using similar surveillance tactics used in Lithuania.

Consultant practice editor Mark Lee said he was sure the Revenue was using Google Maps to look at the size of houses people are living in. “The Revenue will be using it to see where people live who are claiming that they don't have very much money,” he said.

In addition, evidence of the Revenue’s Twitter activity came in July last year, when HMRC was caught very openly chasing down a potential tax evader on Twitter. TaxAssist alerted us to this “novel new approach”:

Since that interesting exchange, the Twitter monitors at the Revenue, believed to be press officers, appear to have gone silent.

James Mattam of TaxAssist told AccountingWEB: “I’ve not seen HMRC do this since we flagged it up. It’s possible they still monitor this without being as public as they were last year.”

Mark Lee suspected they could still be monitoring social media activity. “It's very easy on Twitter to set up a standard search where you can set up a separate column, and you can use Google alerts. I'm sure the Revenue uses that to find new people that are doing all sorts of things,” he said.

“If they've already got a question mark next to somebody's name, they can then have a look and see if they've got a Facebook page, and then their LinkedIn profile, to see if there are any clues.”

Have you ever had any experiences of HMRC snooping or interacting with you via social media?

Tags:

You might also be interested in

Replies (6)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Roger.Thornton
12th Apr 2013 19:25

To anyone with an evil streak

This is open to serious abuse.

How easy it would be to open an account in the name of someone you don’t like, post a few comments to make the account appear genuine, then start boasting about all the money you have spent on a diamond ring for the wife, a new Bentley Continental, etc then sit back and watch the fun as HMRC crawl all over him.

We all know that people exaggerate on social media. 

I think HMRC are going to waste an awful lot of time and resources for very little return and cause an awful lot of distress on the way.

Thanks (0)
Replying to DJKL:
avatar
By BKD
19th Apr 2013 08:13

It's the same everywhere

Roger.Thornton wrote:

This is open to serious abuse.

How easy it would be to open an account in the name of someone you don’t like, post a few comments to make the account appear genuine, then start boasting about all the money you have spent on a diamond ring for the wife, a new Bentley Continental, etc then sit back and watch the fun as HMRC crawl all over him.

We all know that people exaggerate on social media. 

Just as they do on AWeb. We regularly see here how easy it is to create accounts under the name of someone else. In fact, the similarities to your concerns are striking - a few innocuous posts, then the arguments and abuse start. And how often have we seen exaggerated claims of practice wealth and other fantastical tales? Sad truth is that if someone is determined to get round the technology in order to cause trouble, they will.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By brennangriffin
18th Apr 2013 07:54

Technology is making things very easy for human and at the same time tougher now no one will make excuse for Tax.
operating agreement for llc Florida

 

Thanks (0)
avatar
By brennangriffin
19th Apr 2013 08:24

Yes it is as i have faced for my website which was not protected from  spam filter and then Google banned it as it became full of spam.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By ghewitt
05th Jun 2013 11:40

I think HMRC

will have a good idea of whom they are looking for and fake postings for a 'lark' are likely to be sussed before the heavies move in - not every time agreed, but I can't see the Revenue men chasing every 'suspect' Facebook account just because it appears ripe for picking without some background garnered from other sources.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By kenatnam
05th Jun 2013 16:04

Communicate with HMRC via Facebook

I think I'll start posting my gripes about HMRC's service on Facebook, such as why can't they answer the phone in 15 seconds like most good businesses in this country do?

Thanks (0)