X-ray vision to fight fraud

X-ray vision to fight fraud

The Australian Customs Service will launch revolutionary X-ray technology in Melbourne in November in order to crack down on import and export scams.

Aside from detecting illegal shipments of prohibited drugs and weapons, Customs has found a secondary use for the technology, which is set to shake up several of the more questionable practices in the IT industry. Customs believes the new systems can be used to better detect "misreported consignments, revenue evasion, smuggling and large-scale fraud" of imported and export-bound product.

The new scanning technology, developed by NuTech, was originally a Government promise made as part of the Tough on Drugs campaign of 1999-2000, aiming to establish a comprehensive and integrated approach to examining cargo in Australia's major ports -- Sydney and Melbourne. In the latest 2002-2003 budget, the Federal Government extended this commitment to ports in Fremantle and Brisbane with its Protecting Our Borders strategy.

The technology is of particular interest to the Australian Taxation Office, which is looking to reduce fraud in the IT industry. The ATO recently held a meeting with key vendor and channel figures to discuss growing concerns about GST evasion in the IT industry. One of the most serious concerns raised was the large-scale fraud occurring through various import and export scams.

The ATO has identified issues such as the over-valuation and subsequent inflation of input tax credits in respect to exports, and the fictitious exporting of goods. It is also concerned about the problems with dual invoicing by overseas suppliers, and the fraudulent description and undervaluation of goods with respect to imports.

The ATO is hoping that the new X-ray technology will either catch dodgy importers in the act or at least deter companies from attempting such fraudulent activities.

The technology involves the large-scale scanning of approximately 5 per cent of the total loaded container traffic at each of the four facilities being constructed. On average, Customs expects to inspect 100 containers per day at each facility, adding up to 26,000 inspections per year in each port. Each container selected for inspection will be loaded onto a truck and driven into a large purpose-built facility to be scanned.

"The containers we will be inspecting are not being picked at random," said a Customs spokesman. "They will be targeted according to known risks. We have a risk identification and intelligence team, which will be selecting each container for a reason."

Despite the prime motivation for the technology being related to illicit goods, the spokesman said the clarity of the X-ray image is such that misrepresented goods will show up quite easily. The practice of substituting lower-value goods for higher-value goods and vice versa will prove a much more difficult proposition for fraudulent importers and exporters.

The first of the X-ray facilities is due for completion in Melbourne by November, with Customs running a few months behind the original schedule. Sydney and Brisbane, due for completion in late 2002, are now more likely to be operational by early 2003, according to Customs officials. No date has yet been set for Fremantle.

Customs officials said any fraudulent export and import activity can be reported to the Customs Watch program on 1800 06 1800.

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