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Here's How Tax Investigators Scan Through Your Facebook Page

Lock down those social accounts.

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Hundreds of tax investigators are scouring through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to try to catch out people lying on their tax returns about how much money they make.

Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

It emerged earlier this week that the Australian Tax Office is using public social media posts to sleuth out people who lie about declared income on their annual returns.

ATO officials have revealed to BuzzFeed News how their investigators have used Facebook events, friend "whistleblowers" and holiday photos, as well as data from other government agencies, to recoup billions of dollars in undeclared income.

Take for instance the Australian man who bragged on Facebook about inflating his tax return and was dobbed in by a mate.

Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

"They reported a taxpayer who had bragged about inflating their income tax refund by claiming deductions they are not entitled to," said ATO assistant commissioner Graham Whyte.

"The individual's age, location, occupation, and even their high school details were obtained from their Facebook profile."

Two years worth of tax returns were re-examined and the man was charged financial penalties.

In another case, tax investigators looked at the social media posts of a local pub that had not reported details of payments to kitchen staff.

Facebook events at the pub showed DJs were performing at the bar on nights when no chef or kitchen staff were paid.

The pub had to pay back the money to the tax office.

One taxpayer claimed tax deductions for car expenses that required them to fill out a logbook.

Well that was the most refreshing holiday of my life. What's happening?

Tax officials looked at the recorded kilometres and cross-checked them against social media activity.

Some of the supposedly work-related driving records appeared when the person was posting photos overseas.

Another example was a family who were caught underreporting their income, with proof obtained from private school records and Facebook posts of expensive holidays.

As first reported in The Australian, a man had declared a taxable income of $80,000, while his wife lodged a return of $60,000 in income.

The ATO's data-matching system revealed the couple had three children at private schools, with immigration records and Facebook posts showing the couple had recently bought five business-class flights for a ski trip to Whistler, Canada.

The tax office has been scraping data from government agencies for some time, but is defending its foray into using public social media posts to catch cheaters.

"The risk of getting caught is high because of all the data out there," Whyte told BuzzFeed News.

"If you do the right thing, you have nothing to fear."

Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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