Facebook Photos Help Nail U.K. Tax Cheat

By Jackie Cohen Comment

Make sure your Facebook photos don’t contradict your tax returns, or the authorities will catch up with you.
Hazel Cunningham in Ashford, U.K. wound up in Folkestone Magistrates’ Court in Kent after fraud investigators working for local taxation authorities found her Facebook photos didn’t jibe with her tax filings.

She had posted on Facebook images of her lavish vacations in Turkey three times a year, plus a trip to Barbados to get married; but her tax returns suggested she had no ability to afford such trips. She was collecting what the Brits call income support averaging £170 pound weekly, which according to exchange rates today amounts to $275.48 in U.S. dollars.

Her fraudulent collections from the government amounted to £21,000 ($34030.48) during 2009, including income support, housing and tax benefits, all the while receiving maternity pay from her employer, according to the U.K. Press Association. Her tax returns and benefit filings also said she was a single mother when in fact she was living with her husband.

The 47-year-old woman received a sentence of 120 days in prison after pleading guilty to four charges of making false statements and one failure to notify tax authorities of a change in circumstance — presumably that was her marriage, photos of which appeared on her Facebook profile.

The moral of this story: Auditors know well enough to look at people’s postings on social networks for clues about fraudulent activity, warranting more careful use of the privacy settings on the site; and like any accountant will tell you, tax authorities always manage to catch up with cheats.

Does Cunningham’s story inspire you at all to make sure your profile doesn’t contradict your tax filings?