US states name and shame tax cheats

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Americans who don't pay their taxes face hefty fines, can have their property seized or their wages witheld.

Or worse still, they could find themselves named and shamed on the Internet.

The east coast state of Maryland on Thursday published on the Internet its annual "Caught in the Web" list of the 50 biggest tax dodgers in the state, along with the amount the scofflaws owe.

At the top of this year's list is the name and address of a resident of Towson, near Baltimore, who owes the state more than half a million dollars. Nipping at his heels is a company that owes more than 400,000 dollars.

Maryland began publishing its list 10 years ago, and since then, "We've brought in 25 million dollars as a result of shaming these folks into paying up," Christine Feldmann, a spokeswoman for the state comptroller's office, told AFP.

"We see this as an issue of fairness and of bringing in every penny we can for the state, especially in this economy when every cent counts," said Feldmann.

In the wealthy, northeastern state of Connecticut, 3,000 tax cheats have been outed since June 2007. Two-thirds of them felt such shame that they paid up, bringing in 190 million dollars to state coffers.

Based on the success of Connecticut, Maryland and some 20 other states that name and shame tax cheats, New York launched its own "site of shame" this month, hoping to recoup billions in back taxes.

"When we ask working families to sacrifice more and more during this difficult economic downturn, we need to first make sure that everyone is already paying their fair share," said New York Democratic Assemblyman William Colton, who was the driving force behind the list.

The first of 250 individual tax-dodgers outed on the New York list has tax warrants against him for more than 16 million dollars, including one for more than 14 million dollars in sales tax, the list shows.

The names and debts are public information because judgements were recorded in state courts against individuals and companies before they were added to the lists.