So, Guru, What’s a Public Wi-Fi Scam?


These days, even using your personal devices in public can pose all sorts of risks that you may want to avoid, like Wi-Fi scams. Here is how to become aware of the risk and not let your posts or tweets be used against you.

Say you are sitting in a public place, such as a coffee shop or airport, and use the provided Wi-Fi connection, be it free or paid for. You log in, things seem to be going okay. But do they really?

What could be really happening

The log in site is not legitimate, and the Wi-Fi service is being provided by a criminal’s laptop close by. If the service is free, they are likely going through your information trying to find useful data like credit card, banking accounts, and even passwords. However, if it’s a fake paid site, they are likely collecting your purchase amount while obtaining credit card information, which is then sold to other criminals.

wifi free sign

Photo credit: Flickr / Charleston’s TheDigitel

Although you may think the Wi-Fi service you’re using is safe, the truth is that fake services are increasing in popularity, and they can be used anywhere. To make things worse, it can be challenging to determine real from fake. CyberDefender’s vice president Brian Yoder said: “It is easy and lucrative. Criminals copy the web Wi-Fi providers such as AT&T or Verizon  and then receive information directly from unsuspecting victims.”

Avoiding it

The first step in avoiding this situation is to ensure that your devices does not automatically connect to Wi-Fi connections that are non-preferred networks.

With Windows, you can set the appropriate parameter by going to Network Connections and unchecking Connect to non-preferred networks within the advanced settings.

If you are a Mac user, you have to go to Network and then System Preferences, checking Ask to join new networks.

windows mac screenshot

The second best way is simply not trusting your credit or banking account information to unknown Wi-Fi connections. You can buy a prepaid card prior to traveling or making online purchases. This is probably the most secure way to avoid theft.

If you absolutely have to, look for “https” in the URL to insure it’s a secured site. You can also check the lower right corner of the browser for a padlock icon that indicates the site is secure.

[Featured image credit: Flickr / Brian Klug, used under BY-NC 2.0, color filters applied, cropped]

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