Ferrari Crackdown: Italy Declaring War on Tax Cheats

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In a conversation with ABC News, one Ferrari owner who declined to give his name admitted many Ferrari owners have reason to be scared.

"Those who declare their taxes correctly are not [scared], but many have the cars registered under other names and companies or do not declare enough earnings to be owning one," said the owner, who used to be president of a Ferrari owners club. "People are scared nowadays because of the more frequent tax checks and the cross referencing the tax agency can do with bank accounts, earnings and so on… They are worried they will be found out."

That has led many owners to try to sell their treasured Ferraris in an attempt to lower their profile. Some have even traded in their beloved cars for – gulp – Fiats. Another told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that he now drives around with his tax returns.

The Ferrari owner interviewed by ABC News said so many were selling their used Ferraris, the demand to buy the cars back was dropping – and their value had decreased at least 20 percent.

"Many are trying to sell their luxury cars but they can't get the cost they paid for them," he said.

Changing a culture

Avoiding taxes is nothing new in Italy. Italians commonly encounter professionals who offer discounts to those who pay in cash or shops that do not issue receipts -- all attempts to pay less tax.

Tax authorities have attempted to find tax cheats in the past. In 2010, for example, they went after singer Vasco Rossi for creating a fictitious charter company to hide the true cost of his yacht. But this government's new austerity measures, which include laws that make it harder to hide wealth, are an attempt to force Italians to think differently about their taxes.

A widely reported tax blitz in January on Cortina D'Ampezzo, the winter playground for the rich and famous, received widespread support from Italians. Tax authorities looked into the owners of 133 Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and other luxury cars and found nearly a third of the owners declared incomes of less than $30,000 per year – a laughable amount, considering not only the cost of their cars but the $8.95/gallon cost of gasoline.

The government has released a commercial that flips between slides of "parasites" with their Latin names underneath. Pictures of wood, fish and dog parasites begin the commercial, and the last image is of a man's face with the name "parasite of society, tax evader" written underneath.

"The culture of Italians is changing," Attilio Befera, the Italian tax agency's director, told reporters recently. "Fiscal evasion is seen as a bad thing for everyone, not a cunning habit anymore."

A leading stationary chain, he said, was selling more tax receipt rolls and booklets, and a growing number of Italians were demanding receipts.

The government has given the tax authority greater latitude: it can now access bank accounts at any time, not just when Italians were under investigation for undeclared taxes; and it uses more software and data systems that allow cross referencing bills and bank accounts with a person's annual spending habits.

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