Fairfax tax cheat reports go online

Fairfax County (Va.) Program Target

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If you haven't paid up your car tax in Virginia's Fairfax County, beware. Your neighbor might just tip off the county tax collector via the Internet.

In Fairfax, new residents or those registering a vehicle for the first time must file a form, pay a tax on their vehicles, and purchase a decal within 60 days of buying a vehicle or moving into the area.

"There's a lot of people who just don't do that," said Kenneth Bartee, chief executive officer of McDonald Bradley Inc., which specializes in Web development and integration. "If you're paying your taxes, it makes you angry when other neighbors are not because they're also demanding services."

To save money, officials in early August automated its Program Target effort to catch tax evaders. The new system, developed with the help of Herndon, Va.-based McDonald Bradley, links the state motor vehicle department database with various county tax databases and includes a Web site that people can use to report tax cheats. In the past, residents sent such information via mail, e-mail or phone.

If a resident notices a vehicle without a decal, that resident can go to the county Web site and input the tag number and state. Additional information can be keyed in, such as vehicle location and description. The system will find out if the vehicle owner is liable for unpaid taxes by matching records with the other databases. Records are matched at least quarterly. Out-of-state tags can also be added, but they do require manual checking by personnel.

Residents can also check the status of reported tips. Status messages could indicate a vehicle has been "Already Assessed," meaning the owner registered it after the tip was made, the vehicle is exempt, or the county won't sell a decal until the owner satisfies delinquent taxes or unpaid parking tickets.

Other responses include:

* Registered in Another Va. Jurisdiction: it's being taxed in another state municipality.

* Plate Not Found in DMV: a plate tip may have been entered incorrectly, or the vehicle is deactivated from the department's records.

* Tax Liability Not Substantiated: the owner is not liable for the tax.

* Added to Tax File: the vehicle actually could be a tax liability.

When establishing the system, there was "no room for mistakes," Bartee said. "We had to make completely sure that the matching that is occurring is 100 percent effective. You don't want to send a false positive. We thought about all the circumstances where somebody's not in the system."

The site received "several thousand" hits in its first few days, according to Bartee, although he didn't know whether any tax evaders have been caught.

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