A scam at tax time

Posted: Apr 05, 2002 12:00 AM

At tax time this year, some blacks are going to end up paying more than they owe -- and not all of it to the Internal Revenue Service. Confidence men are especially targeting elderly blacks in the South, charging them a fee for filing claims for tax refunds based on reparations for slavery. Moreover, these con men are telling blacks not to back down when the IRS rejects their claim, but to file it again.

Some of these elderly blacks may have come along at a time when they were not given much education -- and when what they did get was substandard. They also came along at a time when it was a lot harder for blacks to make money than it is today. Chances are they can ill afford to pay what the con men are charging them for filing illegal claims, much less what they are liable to be fined by the IRS for continuing to file such claims.

By the time they realize that they have been had, the con men will be long gone and so will their money. Victims of this scam number in the thousands.

The magnitude of the problem has reached the point where, in addition to putting some of these con men behind bars when they catch them, the IRS is trying to get the word out through black churches and other channels that there is no legal basis for reparations claims, and that those who file them risk legal penalties.

Moreover, giving your personal data to strangers who fill out claims on your behalf risks more frauds by people using your identity.

Painful as it is to think of elderly blacks, especially, being taken advantage of this way, even larger numbers of other blacks stand to lose even more by falling for the reparations campaign being pushed by politicians, "leaders" and activists. Those who don't lose money directly to the con artists can still lose opportunities that are worth far more than the money by putting their time and efforts into a blind alley, when the avenues for legitimate advancement have never been more open or more promising.

The reparations campaign had no real chance of succeeding from the beginning, even when blacks were the largest minority group in the United States. Now that Hispanics are the largest minority group in the country, does anyone seriously believe that Latinos are going to be willing to pay taxes for reparations for what other people did to blacks, back when their own ancestors had not yet set foot on American soil? Nor are the descendants of the tens of millions of European immigrants who arrived in this country after the Civil War likely to think that they owe blacks anything.

Those who seem most resentful of claims for reparations are those people whose ancestors died in the Union armies during the Civil War that ended up freeing blacks. A distinguished historian has estimated that there was a life lost for every six slaves freed.

No other war in the Western Hemisphere cost so many lives as the Civil War. Nor have so many Americans died in any other war, anywhere else in the world. No other country paid such a heavy price to end slavery, even though slavery was a virtually universal institution, involving people of every race, color and creed as both slaves and slave owners.

The sheer economic losses were only part of the story, though these were staggering enough that they probably left little or no net gain for centuries of slavery. The deep bitterness growing out of the Civil War continued to divide this country well into the 20th century.

When General Douglas MacArthur and some of his aides entered an Atlanta church one Sunday during the 1920s, the parishioners got up and walked out. Why? Because General MacArthur's father had been one of the Union commanders who took part in Sherman's devastating march through Georgia. After the Civil War, the Fourth of July was not celebrated in Vicksburg, Miss., until the Second World War. Vicksburg had fallen to the Union armies on July 4th, after a harrowing siege.

We all need to leave the past in the past. We have the present and the future to deal with, and wholly different problems to confront.