The UK government is now using Google Earth to get a peek at the property of taxpayers to identify excess spending by those who owe taxes, according to a recent Daily Mail report.
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the department of the British government tasked with collecting taxes, is zooming in on the property of those under investigation for tax collection to spot unreported expenses, such as home repairs or expensive vehicles. According to the Daily Mail, HMRC estimates that tax evasion costs the UK government more than $14 million per year.
The practice appears to be pretty detailed, and can unearth some useful information for tax collectors.
"The Revenue can use Google Earth to look for clues. This could include for your lifestyle, such as cars outside your home, or to look at the state of renovations or repairs to check they’re as described on tax forms," Paul Alpin, a tax partner at AC Mole, told the Daily Mail. "We’ve even seen cases where tax inspectors zoom in on aerial images of a caravan park belonging to a businessman – to check the number of properties against the amount of income being declared."
Considering Google Earth only really provides a top-down view, HMRC has also incorporated Google Street View to conduct as close of an inspection of suspects' homes without leaving their desk chairs.
This isn't the first time Google Earth has been used for this purpose, and it can be fruitful in uncovering tax fraud. In 2010, not long after suffering an economic collapse, the Greek government used Google Earth to find unreported property. It was particularly useful for identifying swimming pools that Greeks declined to report for taxes, discovering more than 16,000 that hadn't been on the books previously, according to a report from the German news publication Der Spiegel.