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IRS getting sneakier in tracking tax cheats

Are we just a bit too paranoid in the wake of the Edward Snowden National Security Agency revelations?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Take taxes. (Please! Rimshot.)

Social media tax cheating clues: As almost 132 million of us were sending in our federal tax returns on April 15, reports resurfaced about the Internal Revenue Service using online activity trackers to sift through the mass amounts of data available on the Internet.

This Web-based information, according to Marketplace, supplements what the tax collector already knows about us, including our Social Security numbers, health records, banking statements and property.

"It appears from its public statements and some other reports, that [the IRS is] using data to piece together likely profiles or likely candidates for closer review," Behnam Dayanim, co-chair of the privacy and data practice at Paul Hastings, told the public radio program.

This is not new. Concern about IRS social media snooping first cropped up more than a year ago.

So while the buzz about the IRS being taxpayers' Facebook friend might have died down, the tax agency apparently has quietly been continuing its social media pre-audit investigation process.

IRS Facebook page Click image to visit the IRS' Facebook page.

As I noted back in 2013, here's how it works. If you're bragging on Facebook about buying a Ferrari but reporting only $30,000 in annual income on your Form 1040, your social media comments will probably prompt the IRS to take an interest in you.

Car tax tracking, too: The IRS also was one of several federal agencies that used the services of a vehicle license plate-tracking company.

Vigilant Solutions provided certain of Uncle Sam's offices, including the IRS, access to auto tag databases or tools used to collect plate information, according to government procurement records compiled by Bloomberg.

Federal contracts worth more than $400,000 with the Livermore, California-based company were in place since 2009. They were used primarily for criminal investigations.

Bloomberg reports that online federal procurement records show that the IRS awarded the company a $1,188 contract for "access to nationwide data" in June 2012. The contract ended in May 2013.

"Especially with the IRS, I don't know why these agencies are getting access to this kind of information," Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy-rights group, told Bloomberg. "These systems treat every single person in an area as if they’re under investigation for a crime -- that is not the way our criminal justice system was set up or the way things work in a democratic society."

Similar efforts worldwide: The United States is not the only country where tax evasion is a concern. And our government is not alone in looking for creative ways to get the money it says it is owed by taxpayers.

A South American example was featured last week at my other tax blog.

Bankrate Taxes Blog iconSome fans of Argentina-born boxer Marcos Maidana weren't content to watch his WBC-WBA welterweight title fight against Floyd Mayweather on television. They booked trips to Las Vegas to see the boxing match in person.

Seventeen of those travelers were listed in the lowest income bracket on Argentinean tax rolls. But the money they spent -- up to 60,000 pesos ($7,500 in U.S. dollars) -- on the Vegas sports excursion was as much as the total annual income they had reported previously to their country's tax collector.

Based on the travel agency information -- Argentina's tax officials have a deal with that industry to track tax cheats -- the boxing fans now face a tax knockout.

Also last week at my other tax blog I looked at the award given Bush 41 for raising taxes after his "read my lips, no new taxes" campaign pledge.

I typically post my additional tax thoughts at Bankrate Taxes Blog each Tuesday and Thursday. Check them out when they go live there or head here to the ol' blog the following weekend (or a bit later when things like Mother's Day take up my time) for a synopsis and links.

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Brumbaugh CPA

I think it would be accurate to say that no one enjoys paying tax. After all, who wants to work hard, then have someone take a chunk of your earnings? So I can understand why people try to avoid paying it, however, these people who report a lower income than they should are making it even more unfair to people who actually do their taxes returns properly. Because there are so many people that attempt to 'cheat' the system, I think it is right for the IRS to investigate. And those people who are silly enough to post things on social media about money they spend deserve to be caught in my opinion.

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