It is Ash Wednesday, and I do mean to write about Lent, but first I have to tell you about our family crisis.

My husband took the tax papers up to our usual tax prep guy, but he wasn’t doing taxes this year. He is from Laos, like my husband. So when some friends of his said they were going to another Lao tax preparer in a nearby town, my husband went along.

The taxes were done, and filed electronically, and I didn’t worry about it any till I was about to help my older son with his FAFSA, at which point I looked at the papers and found that there had been filed, on my behalf, a completely fraudulent tax return.

I was, on that form, a single mom with $4300 of qualifying medical bills. I worked in a factory, too.

When I pointed this out to my husband, he was as surprised as I. He assured me that the tax prep girl had been to school to learn to do taxes. He was mystified.

I said we had to call the IRS right away and find out how to file a new, nonfictional return.

He said we would go to jail, since he had signed it. I’m not sure who signed my name, since I wasn’t even there at the time, but I could see his point. It would be his word against hers.

What’s more, he pointed out, she probably did this on every return she did. Many older Lao people are not literate, and many others are not so comfortable with the English alphabet that they would make the effort to read tax forms. She takes a percentage of the return, so she probably fills out roughly the same return for everyone. A nice little scam. So our complaining about this could put all the people who went to her in jeopardy.

We should just wait, my husband thought, and if the IRS wanted to put us in jail, then we could tell them.

I pointed out that, leaving aside the whole question of honesty, #1 son wouldn’t be able to do his FAFSA. We might get a little bigger refund, but he would get no government assistance with college, since he could hardly include fraudulent tax returns with his application.

After a sleepless night, I went to the store and asked the advice of the accountants. That Man told me I should go to the IRS office and talk to Mary. Blessing said she would come visit me in jail.

I went off to talk to Mary.

The IRS office was full of people explaining why they couldn’t pay their taxes. I took a number and got in line. A minion approached me to see whether I could be helped quickly.

“I feel as though I’m in a movie,” I said. “I hope you are not going to send me to prison.”

I told her my story. There was a pause.

“I’m afraid I’m not trained to deal with that,” she said. She also told me she didn’t think I would have to go to jail.

When I got to Mary, I repeated my story. Sure enough, we do not have to go to jail. She said I could throw things at my husband if I wanted to, and gave me some forms to fill out, and explained the process we will have to go through.

“We usually don’t catch these people,” she said, “because their victims are afraid to come to us.”

I allowed as how I understood that.

My husband was reassured about the going to prison part, buit he insisted that we call the tax preparer.

“You should talk to her,” he said, “So she will think about what she has done.”

My husband is such a kind man.

I suggested that since she had, for years, been putting people in danger for her own benefit, and doubtless knowingly breaking the law, I wasn’t all that concerned about her. She was a criminal, I said, not a nice girl who had made a mistake.

He called and spoke with her. I don’t understand much Lao, but I grasped that he was telling her that I was upset and had not slept well. He passed the phone to me. I told her that it seemed that she had misunderstood what my husband told her, and that I had gone to the IRS office. Had she filed the return already, I asked, even without my signature? She admitted that she had. She offered to file an amended return for me, but I assured her that I had gotten the right forms from the IRS and would be taking them back to that office.

She may now realize that the jig is up.

Now he is saying we should move, in case she is a gangster, in order to make it harder for the other, larger gang members to find us and beat us up. Or something like that.

“We need to move,” he said tersely. “In case they have trouble.”
“Are you suggesting that they are going to come and kill us because I went to the IRS office?” I may have sounded skeptical.
“Sometimes people get crazy when they lose money.”

So if I disappear from the blogosphere, you will know that I have been done in by a tax prep gang.

This adventure will delay the FAFSA process and our refund, and we may yet have to deal with IRS agents and CID men (I thought they were British, those CID men), and it was pretty scary for a while there. And I suppose it is possible that we will be visited by gangsters. Or at least that my husband will worry about that while I worry about missing the deadline for the FAFSA.

It is a good little illustration of passing through the wilderness. I am doing an online Lenten study which focuses on the idea of the wilderness. (Lent is a remembrance of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, for those who are wondering where the wilderness came from.) We do not want to go into the wilderness, this study reminds us, but sometimes it is necessary for us to do so, and we can emerge from the wilderness better than we were when we began. I think this will be a good study for this time of uncertainty and change in my life.

More on Lent tomorrow. And in the meantime, be sure to read all legal papers before you sign them.