TINs abused without knowledge, now they can’t clear their names
Tania Jasmine, the proprietor of a modest beauty salon in Chattogram's Rangunia upazila, and her husband own just one car. But the National Board of Revenue's database shows she owns a mindboggling 103 vehicles -- an alarming record for anyone to have.
And this came to her knowledge when tax officials came knocking to enquire about her source of wealth, which they learnt after the NBR and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority synchronised their servers in June last year as part of the government's efforts to close the walls in on tax dodgers.
It was then that she discovered she has been a victim of identity fraud: her tax identification number (TIN) was used to register an array of vehicles with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority.
"I was shocked -- this is just absurd," she told The Daily Star recently.
Like Jasmine's, Prabir Biswas's TIN found its way to the hands of a gang, who used it to register eight vehicles.
Since 2015, the government has made TIN mandatory for vehicle registration and fitness certificates.
But as tax dodgers are wont to, they have found a workaround: a cottage industry has mushroomed to provide legitimate vehicle registration with fake TINs such that their wealth remains hidden in the eyes of the government's revenue collectors.
Such middlemen can be found loitering outside the BRTA offices, offering to provide registration and fitness certificates without the need to stand in the long queue in return for a fee of about Tk 10,000.
"Basically, we insert the name of the person registering the car on a valid TIN certificate. We are reducing people's sufferings -- otherwise, they would have to face harassment in the hands of both BRTA and tax officials," one such middleman told The Daily Star asking not to be named for fear of reprisal.
In four tax zones of Chattogram, at least 565 vehicles were registered with the TINs of just six people, according to tax officials of the zones. They are yet to finish cross-checking the BRTA and NBR databases, but the actual number will most definitely be "huge".
Two of the six people whose TINs were liberally abused are Jasmine and Biswas.
The Daily Star has managed to trace down the owners of 13 of the vehicles that were registered with Jasmine's TIN. Most said they resorted to the middlemen's service for want of TIN.
At present, 62.93 lakh have a TIN out of a potential net of crores.
Quizzed how middlemen were getting away with such fraud during vehicle registration, Touhidul Islam, assistant director of the BRTA's Chattogram office, said: "We don't know how the others used one person's TIN certificate. The NBR will be able to say better as it is a matter of TIN forgery."
The days of getting away by using fake TINs for vehicle registration and fitness certificates are in the past, according to Muhammad Aminur Rahman, first secretary (tax rules) of the NBR.
Fake TIN users will be caught easily now because of the interlinking of NBR and BRTA servers.
After being caught for the fraud, the fake TIN users are being fined according to the law, Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday.
But for those whose TINs were abused, a different penalty awaits them for no fault of their own: from this fiscal year, ownership of more than a single car, sports utility vehicle (SUV) or minivan means one must pay 50 percent more income tax for each of the vehicles.
For Biswas, a returnee migrant worker who is getting by by leasing out the auto-rickshaw he bought with the savings he had remitted before packing his bags in the Middle East, this is beyond his mental faculty.
He has four auto-rickshaws, a microbus, one car and one pick-up registered with his TIN.
"We have only one car and I have mentioned it in our income tax file," said Elias Hossain, Jasmine's husband.
Hossain lodged a written complaint with the Chittagong Tax Zone-1, where they file their income tax returns, and the BRTA about amending Jasmine's record.
She has 70 auto-rickshaws, eight cars, eight covered vans, five trucks, four SUVs, four microbuses, one bus, one prime mover and one human hauler.
"I went to the BRTA office six times with my wife but they failed to solve our problem," said a frustrated Hossain.
As a result, the couple has failed to submit their income tax files on time, meaning further woes await them.