I can hardly believe it. This year is almost over, and soon it will be time to file your income tax return. But before doing so, please read the story of Chimere Calloway.

Chimere, 24, filed her first tax refund of her life in 2005. She used two individuals to help her file that first tax return. They also helped her by falsifying Chimere’s information so that the refund would be larger. On the day her $1,700 refund came in, those two individuals conspired, with three others, to break into Chimere’s house and rob her of the refund.

What took place next is one of the sickest stories I have ever read. When the young man broke into the house to rob it, he picked up Chimere’s 2-year-old son and held a gun to his head threatening to kill the boy if the money wasn’t turned over. Unfortunately, Chimere had already left the house with the check. The young boy’s father also had a gun and shots were exchanged. The 2-year-old was hit in the neck. His spine was severed, and two days later he died. It was later determined that the man holding the boy had shot him and not one of the bullets from the father’s gun.

We had a similar incident in Bellwood in 2005 as well. Ruby Graham had gone to a currency exchange to cash her payroll check and her income tax check. She apparently was followed from there by a criminal who shot her mother Elizabeth Graham in the chest and wounded Ruby in the head.

In 2002, Brenda Worship had just left a currency exchange on the South Side. She too had cashed her income tax check. She was shot in the head in front of her 12-year-old and 9-year-old by someone as she parked her car in front of her boyfriend’s home. Her boyfriend was shot in the leg as he tried to help.

One of the reasons I am writing about this is because a friend of mine told me his girlfriend was going to school to learn to do income taxes. I found that interesting. Why? Because she is in this country on a tourist visa.

We live in an age where identity theft is running rampant. So what is the procedure that income tax refund places use when hiring people to do your taxes? Have they put them through a background check? What about the people working in the currency exchanges? What kind of background checks do they go through?

Last week I wrote about buying a computer for Christmas to help to eliminate the digital divide. Now I must advocate that if you have a computer, that you buy the software to do your taxes. That software is very similar to what many in our community pay those folks at the tax places to do.

How good is the software? Well, I normally do the long form because I own a home and write off the interest that I pay on my home. After having done my taxes manually, I tried doing it on the computer. The tax program is designed to ask you questions and you fill in the information.

I sat there and did it. What was the result? Well, based on my doing it manually vs. the computer, it was a $3 difference. I attributed the $3 to the computer always rounding the pennies to the nearest dollar. I also had my check directly deposited in my checking account. It normally takes about two weeks from filing to refund.

As we get into this tax season, for those who do use others’ services, please be mindful. Find out how long the person has worked for the company. Don’t loudly give out your Social Security Number. Ask about how the company will guard your personal information in their computer system. If they print out your return, make sure they don’t throw any extra copies away.

When it comes to cashing your income tax refund, be wary there as well. Just because someone is working behind the counter doesn’t mean they aren’t taking your information for others. If your refund is very large, consider taking it to a bank and opening up an account. Or at least, don’t cash it at the currency exchange near where the refund check was issued.

CONTACT : westside2day@yahoo.com