3OYS: Tax season is Christmas for crooks

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The tax-filing season is here and while many people prefer to pay someone to prepare their taxes, others choose to use their computer and some software and do it themselves.

If that's you, here's a warning from computer expert Ken Colburn at Data Doctors. "The security industry refers to the time of year as Christmas for criminals because they're absolutely doing everything they can to infiltrate personal computers."

In fact, Turbo Tax recently had a huge problem. An internal investigation revealed crooks were using stolen personal information to file fake state tax returns and collect refunds.

Turbo Tax has since fixed that problem. However, Colburn says it's really up to you to find and discover any malware before you prepare your taxes. "One of the common attacks when it comes to this time of year is the installation of something called a key logger. So basically they sneak into your computer, they drop this program in the back of the computer and it starts recording every keystroke."

According to the Internal Revenue Service, these scammers are pretty good too, making off with $4 billion in fraudulent returns back in 2012. As a result, Colburn says the race is on to steal your name and personal information in order to get their fraudulent refund.

"Do your taxes as early as you can because if you beat them in the filing, then you've got less of a mess. But if they beat you in that fraudulent filing you're just going to have this major mess to try to work through," he says.

Even if you have anti-virus software installed, Colburn says you should still check to make sure crooks didn't sneak in another way. "There's a big scam going on on Facebook right now. So they're using every possible tactic to get you to click on or install something so that they can basically bypass your security software."

To make sure your computer is okay, Colburn says press the control - alt - and delete buttons and go to the bottom left corner of the screen to see how many processes are running. "Anything over about 50-55, if you're getting 70s, 80s, 90s and you just started your computer, there's nothing running, those are a lot of excess processes and that could be an indication you've been basically infiltrated," he says.

Colburn says we need to treat our computers like we do our cars. "The problem for most of us is we don't think of our computers like we do our cars. We don't do preventative maintenance; basically wait until something goes wrong then have somebody look at it, and that's exactly what the hackers want you to do."

If you need more information on how to stay safe and keep your computer clean visit: www.datadoctors.com/help/columns/22021-Sniff-Out-Malware-Before-You-Prepare-Your-Taxes/