Internal Revenue Service agents have discovered that Google Maps is a valuable tool for auditing taxpayers and organizations. According to Internal Revenue Service documents, agents have used photographs of properties from Google Maps in tax collection efforts. In a recent case, photographs obtained from Google Maps were presented as evidence to revoke the 501(c)(4) status of a homeowners association. IRS whistleblower attorneys are not surprised that the Internal Revenue Service is learning to use new technology.
501(c)(4) is a tax exempt status that includes social welfare organizations, local associations of employees, homeowners associations, volunteer fire companies and certain lobbying organizations. The Internal Revenue Service was at the center of a scandal in May of 2013 when the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that tax auditors had singled out tea party groups seeking 501(c)(4) status for extra investigation. Internal Revenue Service agents routinely use Google Maps and Zillow as tools to help determine if a property meets the regulatory requirements necessary to get charitable contributions. IRS whistleblower attorneys expect that the IRS will continue to use internet technology to investigate cases.
According to the Internal Revenue Service guidelines, the internet can be an excellent source of background information relevant to the taxpayer and appraiser. Agents are encouraged to use freely available online databases of aerial and street photographs to survey property. In 2012, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service awarded a contract to ICS Nett, Inc. to pay for Google Maps License and Maintenance.
Google Maps is a free service, but the licensed business version has features that the free version does not offer. The sale of Google licenses to an Internal Revenue Service contractor is a bit odd, considering that Google has claimed that they are outraged over government surveillance.
The Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission were questioned earlier this year for using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to monitor the e-mails of individuals and corporations without a warrant. Privacy advocates have been at the front of the fight to curtail the spying activities of both agencies by lobbying to congress and the president to modify the law so that government investigators will be required to get a warrant for electronic communications. IRS whistleblower attorneys say that we should stay tuned to find out if the law will be changed.
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