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back to article Taxman recruits fricking tax-collecting robots

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is unleashing an army of fricking robots to find VAT evaders and eBay traders. The robots are the web-spider variety rather than an actual RoboTaxman. But they will target "invisible tax evasion" by those trading on e-marketplaces and offering private tuition as well as tradesmen like plumbers …

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Coat

they will target "invisible tax evasion"

I wish the HMRC would tackle the visible tax avoidance before sending money on this.

Mine's the one with the lunch invite with the head of HMRC in the pocket.

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Anonymous Coward

Nothing to investigate

Tax avoidance is perfectly legal and above board. Tax evasion on the other hand....

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Meh

@AC

Ah thanks for that, I've been calling my gran a coffin evader when it should have been coffin avoider.

Ethier way I'm a hundred grand poorer than I would be.

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Stop

"perfectly legal and above board"

Perfectly legal, absolutely not: legal, only just, and then NOT because parliament intended the legal provision be used for the avoidance obtained, but because the firms in question spend billion upon billion on teams of lawyers to cook up these schemes.

Above board, most certainly not. Check out the excellent "decision time" episode on r4 last wednesday http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011pkqn/Decision_Time_08_06_2011/

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WTF?

eh?

So they are going to monitor public ebay records and attempt to tie them up to a real person? Or are they going to trawl individuals then get the info from ebay?

Not sure I get what they are planning to do.

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Re: eh?

They get the details direct from ebay. They have an Ebay unit that has been doing this for a few years now. They don't need to scrape the public site.

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Anonymous Coward

I'll believe it when I see it.

HMRC can barely stop people bringing back too many fags from the states...and they reckon that they can, and have, developed a system capable of trawling public and private networks for minute details of a persons life and then intelligently identify those details as tax evasion. Good luck to them. Personally I'll be over here working on this precog uplink.

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Bronze badge

I guess ...

... the BBC didn't retire the Daleks after all.

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Coat

Big Brother

Wow. Talk about big brother. Glad I don't live across the pond with you chaps. Not perfect here in the states either, but that sort of system, if it were made public, would not go over well here and would ultimately either never get off the ground, or be shut down if it tried.

Mines the one with the tattered constitution in the pocket.

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WTF?

On the other hand ...

At least on this side of the pond, tax evasion rarely leads to anything worse than a fine if/when someone is caught. For small, somewhat unintentional non-payment, quite a small fine. Jail is reserved for someone who is caught managing his affairs in such a way as to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he set out to avoid paying tax on a large scale in the first place

I've heard that in the USA, people are so scared of the IRS that some deliberately overpay their taxes as a safeguard in case they've accidentally under-declared something elsewhere on the monstrously complex tax form.

And I can't forget queueing up at city hall to pay taxes on the private purchase of an eight-year-old second-hand car! Why on earth couldn't this be done by post? (My USA friends told me everyone dodges this tax ... but as a foreigner, I didn't want to risk deportation and/or arrest next time I presented my passport). There's no sales tax on private sales of secondhand chattels over here.

I'll champion HMRC over the IRS any day.

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Anonymous Coward

I really don't want to turn this into a British vs. American thread, but to clarify

Actually, the IRS (American) generally doesn't give a flying fig about small taxpayers anymore. There was a big push many decades ago about getting tough with ALL "tax dodgers," but they shifted tone on that ages ago. For one thing, it was just too expensive. It also turned out to be incredibly difficult to get juries to pass down prison sentences on people with below average incomes unless they were blatantly cheating. These days a screwed up tax filing is more likely to get you a letter from the IRS telling you a) you screwed up, and b) how much you owe - often not even a fine, just slightly punitive interest on the part you didn't pay (or, occasionally, how much they owe you - that happened to me once, actually, when I missed a credit).

Can't defend the used car tax, though. To my mind, the State (and that is a State issue, not Federal) got their fair share with the original purchase, it seems unfair to get back in on the act every time the vehicle is sold. It's getting harder to avoid, though - especially with the more modern networked databases most states are using. On the other hand, those same networks are starting to make it easier to do it all over the web.

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FAIL

Postive?

I just can't wait to see all the false positive stories appearing the Daily Mail as they highlight the little person being picked on by the faceless state. And then we will have the false negatives and stories in the Daily Mail about the intelligence or lack of within HMRC.

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Alert

Rise of the machines

<shudder>

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Yes

because everything that is online about me is 100% acurate, and completly reflects what I have been doing in real life.

I take it that it will know the difference between John Smith and John Smith who both live in the same town?

Ah well, it'll keep HMRC happy.

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Big Brother

E-bay and bank accounts

In the case of E-bay, they have your bank account details or your credit-card details. Welcome to the panopticon, Mr 10-24-57 29645074.

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Unhappy

Great way to kick-start the economy

Steal every last penny from small traders so they can't afford to continue business... the "eBay tax" is bad enough...

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Evasion

so will they also be going after all those big companies that evade billions in tax as well as the poor sod trying to make an extra few quid (no, I don't mean those making a "proper" living out of eBay etc.)

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Holmes

About time too

All these people that use online selling portals to not only sell their own tat but clearly make a living from it should be paying tax like the rest of us. So many times you can see 10s if not 100s of thousands of comments that clearly indicate this person is a business but registered as an individual.

The tax man should go to Ebay and others and get an inventory of sales and then hit them with income tax.

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Re: about time too

They already do.

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Thumb Up

ebay

the socially acceptable face of hardcore criminality.

sock it to 'em.

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Big Brother

Typical

Target the little people and carry on ignoring the gigantic tax scams being pulled by big corps and their executives.

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Terminator

Part of the reason

I killed my Friendface account with EXTREME prejudice - you never know WHAT somebody will do with seemingly innocuous data.

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Black Helicopters

HMRC Robots

Seems a good way to drop somebody in it, creating a few google sites or news items about a successful business man / trader / arch enemy and getting HMRC to investigate could be a bit of laugh. That tap(with a hammer) on the door at 5.30am should be something that will stay with them for a long time.

Don't suppose the bots will work on hidden assets in an offshore shell account in Barbados.

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Silver badge

Domicile?

Perhaps I can put up enough photos and claims of not being in the UK for enough days to exempt myself from UK tax altogether?

I bet their web-bots are selective and would avoid any site that might lead to such a conclusion...

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April Fool?

They cant even build a simple payment system, the chances that they can identify and match data from the internet to tax records is pretty slim!!!

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Oh yes

Massive intrusion into personal privacy rather than any serious attempt to extract money from huge multinationals that pay an effective tax rate <10%? Sure sounds like a good idea to me.

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staff

Every couple of years you get a couple of brown/grey suited officials who take the details of every advert in corner shop windows. You used to be able to notice them because they would write everything down on a clipboard - now they are there for a few seconds snapping the window with a camera.

I understand they used to do the same at the ads-boards in local supermarkets but the "supers" now ship old adverts to the tax man once they are taken down. Staff in newcaslte and liverpool (used to - now jobs in india) transcribe those selected as "iffy" onto the "database".

The indians/malasians/polish are cheap enough to allow the tax man to have all ads transcribed but offshored transcription is not exactly accurate and people get "done" for ads due to transposed digits etc.

Its called low hanging fruit and unlike the big boys, people selling a few old bits and bobs are less liekly to put up a fight (even if inaccurately targetted) making it quite lucrative for the revnoo.

If more people raised objections and took it to the ombudsman, it would make this far less profitable and the tax man would target other "fruit".

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Mushroom

I've been trying...

...to call Mr. taxman about my new income, and I can't get through. ARGH!

I want to pay you Mr. HRMC. I have this misguided idea it might make a difference and I accept that I am too small to get cushy deals like Vodafone. I want to pay you - pick up the goddamned phone already!

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Anonymous Coward

Heard This Before

I can remember reading something about this years ago. The HMRC have had these spider programmes crawling over eBay for years. I'm also pretty sure they can look at people's bank accounts if they need to. I believe HMRC have a lot more intrusive powers than the IRS.

Don't forget we live in a country where probably a lot more stuff is under surveillance (particularly automated surveillance) than many people realise.

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N2

Im sure

it will be implemented with the same cock eyed way they run their web site & they'll end up spending millions to collect about twenty quid from some hapless trader that's ticked the wrong box.

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some points

(A) If they can truly target those who are regular and frequent eBay resellers who bring in "enough money" (however that's defined) and leave the occasional sellers alone, that could be fine. However, tracking such resellers to one taxable individual could be a challenge -- the big fish will have multiple post boxes and contact informations, while the small fish will more likely get snared.

(B) Agree with posters above who've suggested that Revenue should be going after those who hide assets offshore in the name of shell "subsidiaries" waaay before they even think of going after eBay users.

(C) Apologies to Paul and John:

Sell on eBay, I'll track you down.

Don't pay your VAT, that makes us frown.

Your credit rating we will maul,

then we'll post things on your facebook wall.

Cyber Taxman,

Yea- ah, the e-Taxman.

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Headmaster

Taxman

George Harrison.

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Bronze badge

A possible problem

I have, over the years, accumulated stuff that I could now sell. There's some stuff fitting a rather narrow "collectable" definition.

I would, for a while, look rather like a trader. It doesn't help that personal allowances are lower than minimum wage.

This could all go badly wrong. Although doing enough business to make a living from eBay ought to be fairly obvious.

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FAIL

Apart from E-bay....

this sounds like they will be targeting individuals that have created their own online site to sell goods, etc. So I am wondering will this crawler respect the robots.txt file or completely ignore it, and for the case of individuals running their own sites they should be able to block it from accessing their site and thus render the crawler ineffectual.

As for E-bay, HMRC have been targeting and crawling that site for years

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