French Tax Officials To Start Digging Through Social Media Posts For Expensive Cars It Thinks You Can't Afford

from the faking-it-til-you-make-it-possibly-a-tax-code-violation dept

In a weird announcement threatening the commencement of pointless government monitoring, a French official says tax cheats will now be outed by their own selfies. (via Reason)

France’s tax administrators will start searching through social media accounts in early 2019, a pilot project in the fight against tax avoidance, Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin told weekly business TV show Capital.

[...]

"(The fiscal administration) will be able to see that if you have numerous pictures of yourself with a luxury car while you don’t have the means to own one, then maybe your cousin or your girlfriend has lent it to you... or maybe not," Darmanin said.

I guess French tax collectors will be scrolling through social media profiles with lists of tax dodgers and a keen appraiser's eye. There may be several reasons people have expensive items showcased on social media, and not all of them will have anything to do with ill-gotten net gains. A very common internet pastime is presenting your life as more exciting, dynamic, and filled with material goods than it actually is. Photoshop may be involved. Some of what tax officials come across will be evidence of nothing more than self-esteem issues.

However, this statement may not actually reflect what French tax officials have in mind. This may just be an inelegant (and partially inaccurate) depiction of the program being put in place. It appears this social media monitoring will follow the UK's lead, which doesn't have much to do with scanning social media posts for inexplicable luxury cars. If the French are on the UK Plan, as this article suggests, auditors will bury themselves in mountains of data and hope the algorithm sorts the cheats from the dreamers.

Here's what Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs [HMRC] is doing to track down tax fraudsters:

Tax authorities plan to increase the amount of data Her Majesty Revenue and Customs (HMRC) hold and can analyze. They’ve done this by extending their legal right to gather data from merchant service providers and data aggregators, including those that are based outside of the UK. This is a crucial step, as many Tax Avoidance schemes use businesses and trusts based overseas. They also now have the power to hold an online market place liable if a trader sells goods in the UK without paying tax on it.

Secondly, there will be data gathering and monitoring of certain high-risk groups. These include previous tax evasion and avoidance offenders, who will have data gathered on them for several years after they are convicted. Certain affluent individuals will also be monitored as they have been identified as a high-risk group because those with overseas business assets or connections are at a greater risk of offending.

The monitoring includes social media, but it's only a small part of the data haul.

The UK's HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will "observe, monitor, record and retain internet data" which is available to everyone, including blogs and social networking sites where no privacy settings have been applied, it has specifically confirmed in an update to its guidance on criminal investigations for tax offences.

Having a public account means the public -- and the government -- can see everything you post. That includes stuff it may try to use against you -- in this case, expensive items the government feels you can't afford.

And, lest we think we're any better than our European counterparts, the IRS has been doing the same thing in the States for years. And it's possibly been breaking the law the whole time.

The Internal Revenue Service is breaking several laws by mining large data sets and combing through social media posts in its search for people to audit, a Washington State University professor says.

Kimberly Houser, a clinical assistant professor of business law, in WSU’s Carson College of Business, said the IRS is breaking federal privacy law that says citizens should be:

– Informed when the government is collecting data on them.

– Given the chance to review and correct the information.

Such policies are required by the fair information practices incorporated into the Privacy Act of 1974.

The ACLU also argues the IRS's collection of communications violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and skirts warrant requirements. The IRS has agreed to stop gathering emails but made no promises about text messages and social media posts.

Of course, the IRS doesn't need a warrant to collect publicly-viewable posts. Text messages, however, definitely aren't public. But it isn't really clear the IRS is collecting these without a warrant. The IRS does have Stingray devices capable of intercepting text messages, but if it has done so, nothing about this use of cell tower spoofers has made it into the public domain. More likely, the IRS has interpreted the ECPA "abandonment" rule -- which allows the government to collect email older than 180 days without a warrant (treating it as abandoned physical mail) -- to cover text messages and social media posts.

Basically, what the French government is threatening to do is something several other governments already do. It's just that none have announced it quite this badly. Trawling social media posts for inexplicable wealth may trap a few tax cheats, but it's far more likely to produce false positives and piles of mostly-useless data for investigators to dig through.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 9:42am

    So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

    Is there ANY bit of traditional Democrat / Socialist views that you kids actually support? Any SLIGHT memory of Populist views remaining? Because EVERY article, you put out exactly the views that corporatists / plutocrats / and even Republicans do!

    Bet Ocasio-Cortez and I agree on this with: SO WHAT? We're not for tax cheats.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 9:44am

      Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

      It's rare to see someone so proud of their embarrassingly simplistic views.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

        It's rare to see someone so proud of their embarrassingly simplistic views.

        It's common here though to see ad hominem -- and elliptically LAME at that -- which doesn't actually address the topic, just clutters.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          James Burkhardt (profile), 26 Nov 2018 @ 11:29am

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          Well, given your refusal to address full statements and insistence on making your arguments based on transparent strawmen, you aren't addressing the topic either.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 12:00pm

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          There's nothing to address with you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 12:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          The bill just keeps on rising, man. I might have to cap it at $5000 per day. Seems reasonable.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 26 Nov 2018 @ 3:03pm

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          It's common here though to see ad hominem -- and elliptically LAME at that -- which doesn't actually address the topic, just clutters.

          It would be far less common if you would stop supplying it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2018 @ 4:17pm

        Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

        Its not rare.. just delve into washington, dc and the political scene. There it is hard not to see them touting something they would have the entire world believing they have such a great understanding of, they expect the public to trust them that they have everything well in hand.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 9:54am

      Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

      Amazingly, plutocrats don't need to worry about this kind of thing, since there is basically nothing they could post on Facebook which they cannot afford. In fact, the likelihood that a picture of something on Facebook would be flagged as un-affordable is inversely proportional to your wealth, making this quite favorable to the rich, and quite unfavorable to the poor.

      Nice try though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:18am

        Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

        Amazingly, plutocrats don't need to worry about this kind of thing, since there is basically nothing they could post on Facebook which they cannot afford.

        Really? Are you familiar with current story of Ghosn executive for Nissan, believe, fired recently for HIDING perhaps a HUNDRED MILLION OF stolen income?

        Or are you defining "plutocrats" as over 100 million bucks?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:27am

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          I can find no evidence that he was found out because he bought things he shouldn't have been able to afford and then posted about them on social media, so I'm not sure how this is a relevant example.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:40am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

            I can find no evidence

            Oh, therefore I'm wrong. Gotcha.

            He was FOUND OUT. Why are you against other OBVIOUS ways tax collectors can learn of ill-gotten income? The only conclusion is that you are FOR tax cheats, the subject line of my comment, which you fail to answer.

            What I now have evidence of is some "AC" hitting refresh often AND highly intent on merely contradicting reasonable dissent here so APPEARS that has been answered. -- And of course it's one of the regular fanboys OR a re-writer.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 11:19am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

              *Why are you against other OBVIOUS ways tax collectors can learn of ill-gotten income?*

              Because the proposed method disproportionately targets the poor whereas most damage from tax fraud is done by the rich, and further expands government surveillance power without any evidence that said increase would even be capable of producing the desired social benefit.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2018 @ 11:01am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

                Where is the taxman when walmart walks away with $$30Billion a year in profits and shoves it in our faces??

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2018 @ 11:04am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

                  And their underpaid working force paying 10 times what corporate pays.. sum ten WONG here.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              James Burkhardt (profile), 26 Nov 2018 @ 11:28am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

              His social media posts about extravagant vehicle purchases he could not afford did not lead to his arrest.

              Which was the subject of the article.

              Your decision to cherry pick his words and not address the substance is why you get a flag.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2018 @ 10:42am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

            Its legal to avoid taxes. Its not legal to evade taxes. So everyone wants to impress a chick. Photshopped selfies will become the new wave. Standing in front of my new Chiron, I feel completely accomplished. Who are they kidding? Fuck em if they can't take a joke.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          Plutocrat is defined as someone with focking political power from money and business, not just anyone with some cash.

          So no, just some dude who stole 100m is not a plutocrat, unless he is one by other history.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:46am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

            So no, just some dude who stole 100m is not a plutocrat, unless he is one by other history.

            Huh.

            I've always said Techdirt is a target-rich environment for anyone reasonable to get laughs at silly notions of site and commenters, but I admit didn't know that here are Rich Targets who scoff at a mere $100 million, besides blithely ignore that it was STOLEN -- truly the attitude of the born rich.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 12:54pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

              Nah. they're not here on TechDirt, unless they're in your chair. The actual plutocrats are ... well, it might be fair to say that the current ass that fills the presidential seat is one.

              I wonder how much he owes in taxes that he's skating on.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2018 @ 11:11am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

              ..truly the attitude of born rich..

              We just watch a lot of movies..

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:39am

      Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

      what the fuck are you even talking about

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:48am

        Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

        what the fuck are you even talking about

        Huh. Most feeble attempt yet.

        It's only the headline topic, as is my subject line.

        I'm off to the next story, you depress me.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 12:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

          Nah, it's just more evidence that you are terrible at A) actually understanding what people are trying to say to you and B) successfully communicating your opinions in a fashion that is sensible.

          Seriously, you should be paying us all to deal with your drivel.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 26 Nov 2018 @ 11:52am

      Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

      So, since no one else has explained this for you, and you don't understand why commentators are upset, here is my weekly explanation of this concept: being against a specific policy proposal does not mean you are against the objectives of the policy.

      The specific tax enforcement policy is unlikely to catch 'millionaire tax cheats'. This policy would affect low and middle income taxpayers - the types most likely to have a photo of a car they 'can't afford' in their profile. If you are a millionaire, it is unlikely there is a car you would have parked at your house that you couldn't afford.

      However, this will lead to significant enforcement efforts around gangnam style activity (the song was about areas of Korea where the 'image' of a lifestyle was more important than it's substance, to the point of putting yourself in ruinous debt). Is that classic car which looks expensive actually worth that much? Maybe you've been rebuilding it for 20 years. Maybe it doesn't work, and you've just been restoring the body. And the illegal tax avoidance activity they do find might be of little monetary value compared to the investigation. This wastes enforcement effort, lowering the value of enforcement. And it comes at a cost of the productivity of Low and middle class workers who have to defend themselves against valueless allegations based on internet selfies. Its a bad policy.

      I am not for millionaire tax cheats. Millionaire tax cheats aren't found out by Facebook selfies.

      Not that it matters. You'll find some quote you can strip of context and claim victory with your ridiculous strawman.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        ryuugami, 26 Nov 2018 @ 1:56pm

        Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

        Millionaire tax cheats aren't found out by Facebook selfies.

        You say that now, but once the IRS nails Elan Musk for tax evasion because they saw him post a selfie with a BFR ("You obviously can't afford that giant rocket"), I'm sure you'll change your mind.

        :P

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 4:56pm

      Re: Shills gonna shill

      I love watching you get your marching orders from right wing nut jobs whilest decrying your imaginairy leftwing boogeymen.


      It’s sad and pathetic in a way only you can manage.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 9:51am

    Wow - cool!
    I eagerly await news of those in high political office being subjected to the horrors of the governmental taxation system which they have created.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Wanda Somtime, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:24am

      Re: Oh-oh! Here's a Populist!

      I eagerly await news of those in high political office being subjected to the horrors of the governmental taxation system which they have created.

      Or pretending with first silliness that popped into head.

      Look. The tax system is either going to favor YOU or The Rich. Always been so, for last three thousand years. Let's aim the tax collectors at that who gain money most easily and who won't be much deprived if take away even 99% of it. No one deserves ridiculous incomes, aren't that valuable to society. Even Rush Limbaugh agrees with that principle. Let's just draw the line against The Rich who are using tax systems and every other advantage in the class war they start and maintain upon the poor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:12am

    propaganda and tradecraft

    Whenever governments are actually spying on people, they will never admit it. Whenever governments announce that they plan to start spying on people, it's a bluff designed to scare and intimidate.

    That announcement alone could create a bounty of tax revenues for the French government, without any of the substantial costs of performing investigative work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2018 @ 10:49am

      Re: propaganda and tradecraft

      I don't know any millionaires that feel guilty about the money they've made. Its not likely they'll be turning themselves in to anyone anytime soon!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:15am

    Not too surprising considering local French governments were already using Google Maps to find swimming pool tax cheats: https://www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Pool-tax-dodgers-trapped-by-Google-maps

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 11:26am

      Re:

      That's quite an easy one. If your house has a pool, you owe the tax. Doesn't matter whether you're rich, where you got it, how you paid for it... Doesn't even require high-res imagery.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:21am

    Opportunity knocks...

    Now selling indistinct pictures of me in front of my $50 beater car, wearing a beret and a tricot rayé, $5 (4.5 Euro) per shot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wilhelm Arcturus, 26 Nov 2018 @ 10:33am

    Opportunity

    I have to start posting pictures of myself in front of my 2003 base model Camry so maybe the IRS will take pity on me.

    The joke will be on me of course, the IRS has no pity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 26 Nov 2018 @ 11:45am

    I used to drive by this house with a big new Dodge truck and a nice trailer behind it, 2 Harley's parked on the lawn, corvette shoehorned behind the truck and trailer. It was an 800 sq ft single on .3 acre.

    When we looked at houses I tried to buy a 1000 sq ft house with a detached 3 car over-sized garage and apartment on top. It was bigger than the house. Wife told me if I did I would be living in that apartment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    L'etat C'est Moi Dept, 26 Nov 2018 @ 12:40pm

    Le French Tax Twinks

    Well, I have difficulty feeling sorry for the idiots who post their lives to social media, especially those who have some need to put a spin on their lifestyles. If you are dumb enough to post your life for the public to read, not to mention spin it to impress people, you got what you asked for, even if it isn't what you wanted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 26 Nov 2018 @ 1:09pm

    too soon France?

    I thought Black Mirror was supposed to be a cautionary tale that only dealt with potential near/far future events.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 1:14pm

    Many use Amazon Giftcards to buy expensive stuff they then resell on Poshmark, to avoid it appearing like income. They brag about this publicly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2018 @ 1:16pm

    French Tax Officials think? OK. I wonder how the French feel about the price of bananas going up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Nov 2018 @ 8:58am

    Oh nice, I have a list of people I want photoshopped with a Ferrari or something here.

    What could possibly go wrong eh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 30 Nov 2018 @ 6:49pm

    Poor people's fun

    Poor people in France can do fun stuff with this:, find expensive cars in car park/parking lot at hotel, streets, stores, car show room and photograph them self with cars. Help waste tax budget and time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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