Taxman’s Facebook Miranda Warning? Anything You Put on Your Wall Will Be Used Against You

By now, as taxpayers, if we’ve ever had a scrape with the IRS or a state’s taxing agency, especially if we happen to be owing some, we are accustomed to getting letters, maybe getting phone calls, maybe even having some live person from the IRS show up at our door.

And we are familiar with the forms, and the questions: things like:

  • Where do you work?
  • Where do you bank?
  • Do you rent or own your house or apartment?
  • What is the rent?
  • What is the mortgage?
  • What is the maintenance or common charges?
  • Do you own stocks or bonds?
  • What are they worth?

All these questions, and more.

And, if you happen to get audited, the Revenue Agent (the IRS’s name for the person who does the audit) might send you a few pages of forms which ask you to provide specific information and documents to help answer these sorts of questions. The IRS calls them IDRs, which stands for “Information Document Request.”

If you don’t respond, and things get ugly, the IRS can drag you into court and have you explain to a judge why didn’t provide the information the IRS requested. You might have a good reason; you might not.

It’s all pretty low tech: letters, paper, phone calls, knocking on doors.

But according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the Taxman is leaping quickly into the 21st Century and gathering information about taxpayers from Facebook walls, MySpace posts, chat rooms, and Google.

In “Is ‘Friending’ in Your Future? Better Pay Your Taxes First,” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Saunders reports that state taxing authorities in Minnesota, Nebraska, and California have been catching long-time tax debtors and tax evaders who announce their professional and travel plans on social media sites. Other states are doing so as well, or at least thinking about it.

For example, one tenacious and inquiring tax collector found a delinquent taxpayer who was a “rigger of sails” by searching for his name and the phrase (“rigger…”). This search led him to a discussion board of local riggers, and in it, a discussion thread telling where this rigger went after his store closed.

With this morsel of information, the taxman located the missing “rigger of sails” and collected the unpaid tax debt.

While states are jumping into mine social media sites and more generally the internet, the IRS is playing its hand very close to the vest. It refused to comment on whether or how it might be using social networking sites.

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