BBB Warning: Free Wi-Fi Scam Strikes at Airports

December 02, 2010

Many airports and other public spaces offer free wireless or Wi-Fi connections for the public to log onto the Internet from their laptop computers. “Hackers are now taking advantage of travelers who want to stay connected,” said Karen Nalven, President of BBB serving West Florida. “They are setting up fake Wi-Fi connections designed to steal your personal information without you even knowing it.”

How it works:

Although hackers have set up fake Wi-Fi connections in many locations, airports are a favorite “hot spot.” When searching for connections, consumers may see a network connection available that could be simply named “Free Wi-Fi.” Unfortunately, the network may actually be an ad-hoc network, or a peer-to-peer connection. The user will be able to surf the Internet, but they are doing it through the hacker’s computer. While the user is online, the hacker is stealing information like passwords, credit card and bank account numbers, and social security numbers from the user’s laptop computers. Airports across the nation continue to report Wi-Fi security issues.

The BBB offers the following advice for travelers using Wi-Fi Hot Spots:

  • Connect securely. Never connect to an unfamiliar wireless network—even if the name sounds genuine. A hacker can change the name of his network to anything he wants, including the name of the legitimate Internet connection offered by the airport.
  • Disable automatic connections. Make sure that your computer is not set up to automatically connect to any wireless networks within your range. Otherwise, your computer could automatically connect to the hacker’s network without your knowledge.
  • Turn off file sharing when you are on the road to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive data from your computer.
  • Create a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN establishes a private network across the public network which prevents a hacker from intercepting your data.