Tax Collectors Mine Social Networks

Google, Facebook, and MySpace yield results in search for cheaters

0921_blog_socialTax evaders beware.

Looks like Uncle Sam is tracking down tax deadbeats through social networks and making them pay up, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. While many of us social networking junkies have oft heard the cautionary “watch what you post” advice, this recent article gives the warning an entirely new meaning.

Some state revenue agents are mining information posted on Facebook and MySpace looking at everything from relocation announcements to financial boasts, according to the piece. Yikes.

Check out these cases cited by the WSJ:

Minnesota authorities levied back taxes on wages of a long-running tax evader after he announced on MySpace he’d be returning to his hometown to work as a real-estate broker and gave his new employer’s name.
Nebraska agents collected $2,000 from a deejay after he advertised on his MySpace page he’d be working a big public party
California agents used an online discussion board to nab a tax evader who discussed his relocation.

Honestly, it’s hard to feel sorry for folks. If trying to run from the tax man, becoming an active member of social networking sites is the last thing you should be doing. Aside from the ironic and amusing information this piece presents, it also raises an important issue; with the advent of social networking, more and more the Americans seem to be giving up their desire for privacy. Not only have we flocked to these Websites, but posts, blogs, and profiles feature sometimes the most private information. While members can manage who can view their profile, and how much of it is seen, there’s still something paradoxical about having a “private” or “limited” social networking profile. As a Facebook user I still struggle with how much information to divulge.

Also, this new means of locating tax cheats is not as invasive as it sounds. For Nebraska and some other states, agencies are only allowed to use information that is publicly available online. Since they are merely viewing that which is not set to private, getting caught is the users’ own doing — or undoing. They’re also not allowed to “friend” someone using false information.

What do you think about tax agents tracking down cheats via the Internet? Is your social networking profile set to private? Do you still refuse to join the social networking frenzy? Let me know what you think.

Renita Burns is the editorial assistant at BlackEnterprise.com.

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