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Self-reported income data: are people telling the truth?

Fernando Antonio Ignacio González (Department of Economy, Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales del Sur, UNS/CONICET, Bahia Blanca, Argentina)

Journal of Financial Crime

ISSN: 1359-0790

Article publication date: 3 February 2020

Issue publication date: 7 December 2020




This paper aims to detect anomalous data in income reports of Argentina, including personal income – from a sample of households – and statements of public officials.


A widely known technique in forensic accounting – such as Benford’s Law – is used. The Chi-square test and the absolute mean deviation are used for verification. The databases consulted include the income declared by households in the Permanent Household Survey – for the 2003-2017 period – and the capital declarations of high-ranking public officials – for the period 1999-2017.


The results suggest that income reported in the Encuesta Permanente de Hogares do not follow a Benford´s distribution, and the degree of conformity with this decreases significantly between 2007 and 2015 – coincident with the intervention period of the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos. Patrimonial statements of public officials present an acceptable level of compliance with Benford’s law, especially among those of the legislative branch (in more than 90% of cases) although to a lesser extent among officials of the executive branch.

Practical implications

The results suggest that income reports from the Permanent Household Survey, for the period 2007-2015, should be used with reservations because of their possible manipulation.


During the intervention of the official statistics institute in Argentina (2007-2015), the idea of lack of credibility of its reports has been disseminated. To date, however, there is no empirical evidence to support it related to income.



González, F.A.I. (2020), "Self-reported income data: are people telling the truth?", Journal of Financial Crime, Vol. 27 No. 4, pp. 1349-1359.



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