Why using Google to search for tax documents is so dangerous

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So there’s a longish—the better ones are always longish—post over at Fast Company that details the perils of using Google to find tax documents. (International readers: April 15 is Tax Day in the U.S. It’s a time that drives normally serene men, if I may, batshit crazy.) If you’re pinched for time, the moral of the story is to actually go to www.irs.gov for all tax forms and whatnot, and not to rely upon Google to steer you in the right direction.

Google, all-pwerful, all-knowing, seems to have a hard time keeping garbage (and malicious!) search results out of its search engine. A search for a certain tax form—1065 B, if you care—brought up in the first page of results Web sites that Firefox labeled dangerous; if you’re using Safari or Internet Explorer or Chrome, come right in! The Web sites try to load a nasty piece of malware onto your PC, which is disguised as a malware detector. You might fall for such a “trick” if you still equate AOL with the Internet itself, or, rather, don’t spend every waking hour of every single day online like we do.

The problem isn’t so much that these sites exist, but that they’re so high in Google’s vaunted PageRank algorithm, often on the first page of results; who searches beyond the first page of results? (Well, I do, but I’m not normal in any sense of the word.) And that Google lets these result hang around, during the time when every honest citizen is searching for tax information!

To Google’s credit, the results were cleaned up after the writer, one Adam Penenberg, pestered them. But, a few days later, these same malicious Web sites came back.

A few conclusions. One, “bad guys” apparently know how to run circles around Google’s Super Fancy algorithm, and two, you’re better off going to the IRS Web site itself, and searching from there, if you’re looking for any tax info. Otherwise, you could find yourself having to clean out a whole lot of gunk from your PC, if not worse. (Identity theft, anyone? Sure, reputable-looking Web site, I’ll give you all of my personal information.) And I do mean PC, as the malware in question doesn’t affect Macs—go us!

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