Google Street View just can’t stay out of the headlines for very long. The latest has to do with the mapping tool’s launch in Lithuania. Earlier this year when the service rolled out, there was one group of unlikely fans cheering it on — the Baltic country’s tax department. Wouldn’t you cheer too if a free, comprehensive tool suddenly made your job sooooo much easier?
Those who weren’t cheering were the citizens and businesses caught dodging taxes, thanks to these maps. Instead of exploring random leads or searching for wayward signs out on the road, the inspectors could just sit back in their cozy offices and tool around town looking for tax violations.
It’s amazing what they found using these maps. There were homes where none were supposed to be, undeclared property sales and building projects, and other suspicious activity. According Darius Buta, a spokesman for the State Tax Inspectorate, the department pinpointed 100 homeowners and 30 different construction companies that were suspected of tax evasion, thanks to Street View.
“Our inspectors track these buildings on the Internet, and if a violation seems obvious, they visit the sites,” says Buta. “This saves lots of time and resources.” As far as Lithuanian officials know, theirs is the only country that uses Google Street View for tax collection purposes. But they’re not alone in using current technologies like hi-res maps, online databases and social media to sniff out tax dodgers:
- In the United States, the IRS plans to cross-reference info from people’s Facebook and Twitter accounts if their tax returns were red-flagged. (And, notably, it also seems to believe it can read people’s emails without a warrant in a criminal tax investigation.)
- In Britain, tax officials use Web-crawling software to check auction websites for undeclared sales.
- In Greece, authorities use satellite imagery to find things like undeclared swimming pools in affluent neighborhoods.
This is pretty timely, considering the April 15th filing deadline in the U.S. is fast approaching. If your returns are legitimate, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But if, say, you’re on unemployment, don’t be surprised if the IRS notices your Facebook/Twitter/email messages about that sweet under-the-table job. Jussayin.