As soon as Google Maps Street View was rolled out in Lithuania earlier this year, tax authorities were ready. Sitting in the comfort of their own offices, inspectors used the free Internet program for a virtual cruise around the streets of some of the Baltic country's big cities, uncovering dozens of alleged tax violations involving housing construction and property sales. They identified 100 homeowners and 30 construction companies as suspected tax dodgers thanks to Street View, finding homes where they shouldn't be and other suspicious activity, a spokesman for the State Tax Inspectorate says.
"Our inspectors track these buildings on the Internet, and if a violation seems obvious, they visit the sites. This saves lots of time and resources," he says. Lithuanian officials said they were unaware of any other country where revenue collectors had used Google's Street View, saying they didn't draw on anyone else's experience. Still, tax authorities across the world are turning to high-resolution maps, online databases, and social media in a bid to catch out cheats:
- In the United States, the IRS has said it would be cross-referencing information from taxpayers' Facebook and Twitter accounts if their returns threw up any red flags.
- In Britain, tax officials have revealed they are using Web-crawling software to trawl auction websites for undeclared sales.
- In Greece, authorities have been using satellite imagery to locate undeclared swimming pools in wealthy neighborhoods.