A Bay of Plenty man has been sentenced to 10 months' home detention after he used backpackers' and other tourists' IRD numbers to file false PAYE tax returns.
Inland Revenue's group manager of investigations and advice, Patrick Goggin, said Harjinder Singh ripped off New Zealand taxpayers for more than $260,000 after claiming backpackers and other tourists he hired as temporary workers on his kiwifruit farm were still employed by him.
"The wage figures Singh submitted to us for the temporary workers were higher than they should have been," said Mr Goggin.
"He hired them as temporary workers but after they had moved jobs or left New Zealand, Singh continued to use their IRD numbers to put through portions of his permanent staff's wages.
"Singh's actions were selfish and posed a real risk. He logged some of the permanent staff's wages under the IRD numbers of the temporary workers who no longer worked for him. This means, by using the wrong IRD numbers, Singh could have helped his permanent staff to defraud the system by effectively reducing their declared income. This could have led to staff members getting more family assistance tax credits than they were entitled to, or reducing the amount of child support they may have had to pay.
"Singh could also have misused the numbers to employ and pay illegal immigrants," he said.
Inland Revenue was contacted by a handful of backpackers concerned they had been taxed on money they had not earned.
"We acted quickly to stop Singh and help the additional 120 victims we also identified whose IRD numbers were likely to have been misused," said Mr Goggin. "Where applicable, we have refunded any overpaid tax.
"Inland Revenue takes criminal activity like this seriously. There's always a small minority who will try and cheat honest taxpayers out of money that pays for services like our schools and hospitals.
"Some backpackers whose IRD numbers were ripped off are worried they won't be able to return to New Zealand due to Singh's actions causing possible breaches to their work visa.
"Protecting our customers' identities from misuse is something Inland Revenue takes seriously. It's important we all protect our IRD number the best we can and treat it with the same secrecy as our banking pin number," he said.
Inland Revenue has recovered the $262,458 Singh owed. The 36-year-old was sentenced at Hamilton District Court yesterday after pleading guilty to 16 charges of PAYE evasion.