Web spider to hunt tax dodgers

In a windowless room in a Gothenburg office block Maria Larsson sits in front of the Swedish tax board's new secret weapon: a special computer programme which will hunt tax dodgers in cyberspace. And Larsson has high hopes for the software, expecting it to sniff out millions of kronor in undeclared tax.

A cooperation with tax authorities in a number of countries has led to the development of special software, a ‘spider’ which, like an advanced Google search, will trawl the internet looking for “interesting sites”.

“The preliminary work, coming up with the profile for the kinds of sites we’re looking for, is important,” said Maria Larsson, who is responsible for the project in Gothenburg.

The better the profile, the better the quality of the results. The discoveries are sorted according to common factors and using pattern recognition more sites are tracked which are linked to those already identified.

It sounds highly covert, but the process will be very open, according to the tax authorities.

“There is no possibility of hacking with this programme. What we’re finding is the kind of thing anyone could find,” said Maria Larsson.

The difference is that the tax board is going a step further, comparing how the web site activity matches the owner’s own financial declaration.

“I think that most people believe that there should not be a free-for-all on the internet, where people don’t pay tax on the money they earn,” said Larsson.

The project, which will begin in earnest after the summer holiday, has already brought in around 80 million kronor in taxes in its test period.

“Financially the project is already home and dry,” said Dag Hardyson, who is responsible for the investment nationwide.

But he gets no pleasure from landing tax dodgers, he says.

“In fact it’s depressing. When someone is sentenced to two and a half months in prison for what we find out, it’s not really fun,” said Hardyson.