How your social media posts can get you into trouble

The government are watching you online

Your suspicions are right, so be careful what you share online – Big Brother is watching.

Government departments like the Australian Tax Office are using data matching to catch those who are dodging their tax obligations or cheating the welfare system.

So, how are they doing it?

Take the example of this couple –

  • He reported an income of $80,000, putting him just inside the second-lowest tax bracket, and his wife had a reported income of $60,000.
  • Yet the ATO’s data-matching efforts revealed that their 3 children attended expensive private schools.
  • Plus, their immigration records and social media posts revealed their luxurious lifestyle – 3 business class holidays in the last few years, including a recent trip to Canada for a skiing holiday.
  • Something just didn’t add up for the ATO, who investigated the couple and caught them out.

Catching up with tax cheats

The ATO are keen to try and boost the government’s tax coffers and catch tax cheats.

  • In the financial year from 2015 to 2016, there was a $187 billion gap between the actual tax paid to the ATO, and how much would have been paid if everyone declared all the money they earned.
  • The ATO are keen to close that gap – so they’re turning to social media like Facebook and Instagram to track down cases where someone’s reported income doesn’t match their lifestyle – then they pursue the unpaid taxes.
  • Last year this crackdown saw the ATO recover almost $10 billion in taxes, so they’re upping their efforts!

Where does this data matching info come from?

The ATO collects information from a wide range of sources, including:

  • motor registries
  • the stock exchange and online share traders
  • and banks, employers, health insurers and government agencies are all obliged to report info to the ATO.
  • the ATO also contacts some private schools to confirm how school fees are paid – uncovering families who are using undeclared overseas bank accounts.

Welfare cheats – be warned!

It’s believed that agencies like Centrelink also use similar methods to catch people who make fraudulent claims for welfare payments.

  • For example – say you claim to be single, and therefore receive a certain benefit payment and rate that you wouldn’t be entitled to if you had a partner.
  • However – your Facebook posts reveal that you do have a partner, and they’ve recently moved in with you.
  • If Centrelink choose to investigate your circumstances for any reason, this conflict will quickly become obvious to them.

Honesty is the best policy

Sure, we all want to make sure we’re getting the payments we’re entitled to, but make sure you’re playing within the rules.

  • Don’t chance your luck! Dishonestly claiming welfare can have some pretty serious consequences, including a debt, loss of your payments, and perhaps even being charged with welfare fraud and facing a criminal record or a prison sentence.
  • To be sure you’re doing the right thing, check out our post – Avoid Centrelink Fraud.