Spanish tax inspectors look to social networks in bid to find fraudsters

Suspects’ personal information analyzed for signs of assets not reflected on returns

Jesús Sérvulo González
The Spanish Tax Agency`s computer department.
The Spanish Tax Agency`s computer department.uly martín

From now on, the Spanish Tax Agency will intensify its use of social networking sites such as Facebook in its fight against fraud.

Inspectors will search the internet for information about suspected tax dodgers, including data about their family ties and professional contacts that could shed light on their movements, particularly any undeclared business activities.

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Agency chief Santiago Menéndez made the announcement on Tuesday, during a congressional appearance to discuss 2014 results and this year’s new fraud-fighting action plan.

“It is extremely important to be intensive in our use of new technology and to be able to use support from computer auditing experts during our controls, in order to access the internal workings and the information contained within computers and which is not shared with the Tax Agency,” said Menéndez.

Tax inspectors already resort to social networks for signs of assets that do not correspond with suspected evaders’ income statements. But now, investigators will take their search further. The agency is also planning to use special computer programs to trawl the web for more comprehensive information about their targets.

Motorcycle champion Jorge Lorenzo was targeted by the Tax Agency because of a magazine photo story flaunting his wealth.
Motorcycle champion Jorge Lorenzo was targeted by the Tax Agency because of a magazine photo story flaunting his wealth.James Rajotte

The agency also has a dedicated group of workers who analyze websites, blogs and other online platforms in search of clues. Some of their most popular targets are home rental and car sale websites. It is also a known fact that some tax employees search gossip magazines for signs of undeclared wealth in the photographs of featured celebrities.

This last method yielded success last year, when tax workers noticed a magazine spread displaying details of the luxury home owned by motorcycle racer Jorge Lorenzo. An inspection of Lorenzo’s business ensued, and sources familiar with the sports celebrity say the world champion has now put his affairs in order with the treasury.

Lorenzo’s was one of 99,590 inspections carried out last year, a 6.8 percent rise from 2013.

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