Even if it hasn’t become your de facto navigation tool, you’ve likely used Google maps at one time or another. The search behemoth’s technology has made it simpler for us to get to where we’re going, right down to an eye-level perspective of the street you live on. In the short six years since its inception (launched first in five U.S. cities: New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver), the number of uses for Google’s Street View technology has expanded rapidly worldwide. Some governments of European nations, such as Lithuania, are even using it to research tax evasion cases.
Here’s the scoop: Post 2008 financial crisis, just a year after Google Street View was introduced, Lithuania’s tax authority let a quarter of its employees go due to budget cuts. In the classic “do more with less” mantra of the modern-day work world, the country’s tax authority eventually found it could work smarter, not harder-at least with the help of Google Street View.
Just a year ago, Google’s car-borne cameras went through the Baltic nation, recording images of streets and homes. That’s how the government’s tax authority spotted one house 10 miles away from its offices that existed contrary to official records. In fact, more than 100 such properties have been found by Lithuania’s investigators after comparing Street View images with state property registries looking for undeclared construction. In just two recent cases, $130,000 in taxes and penalties were collected from homes that existed but didn’t show up in official documents.
Like it or not, Google Street View is live and well in neighborhoods all across the U.S. So is the IRS watching us with it? Not yet (as far as we know); but it is pursuing other high-tech means of examining both the personal and business tax compliance of high-net-worth individuals through their digital activities (e.g. Facebook posts, eBay listings and electronic credit card records). The added investigative capabilities made possible by technology makes it that much more important to ensure all necessary documents regarding assets are completed and filed according to IRS rules.
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Source: The Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2013.