Beware: Federal Agents Watching Your Profile as Tax Deadline Looms

With just a week until the April 15th deadline to submit your taxes, there is more to worry about than just filling out your returns. The IRS and other authorities are now using social media to monitor you and make sure all of your information adds up.

All of the social media and search tools we use on a daily basis are also useful to the government. Google Street View makes it simple for the IRS to view your properties. Public information on your Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or other social media profile gives clues as to your business and personal life, as well as your social and spending habits.

Though the practice might be unsettling to some, the privacy invasion potential here is miniscule. IRS employees are prohibited from misrepresenting their identities to obtain information on taxpayers via social media sites, therefore they cannot go undercover to trick taxpayers into accepting rogue friend requests. They are limited to public information that is readily available online. However, many users have still not tweaked their privacy settings to prevent profile views from non-friends. And most users probably do not censor their postings all year just in case the IRS is watching. (Hopefully, most users are also not cheating on their taxes!) As long as the information is public, the IRS is allowed to use it.

Also, the IRS is offering a reward for ratting out tax cheaters. Remember that “frenemy” from high school whose friend request you accepted on a whim because time and distance have made you forget your differences? Or that coworker you barely know but accepted their LinkedIn connection request anyway? With social media, you never know when shaky relationships from the past might come back to haunt you. A nice chunk of change from the IRS could easily outweigh a cyber friendship to most people.

The long and short of it is to always be careful what you share and who you share it with. Make sure your privacy settings are up to date. And fill out your 2010 tax returns honestly, because big brother is watching.

Publish date: April 8, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT