Watch Out for "Free Wi-Fi" Scams

July 11, 2017

LOS ANGELES & SAN JOSE—If you’re traveling this summer and taking advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots, double check before connecting your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Scammers use fake Wi-Fi hotspots to steal personal information and/or gain access to your device.

How the Scam Works

You’re at a coffee shop, airport, hotel lobby or other public place and you want to connect to the Wi-Fi. You search for connections and find one nearby. It may be labeled something generic like "Free Public Wi-Fi." This may look harmless, but don't connect. It’s really a scam!

Some fake Wi-Fi hotspots appear to be charging you a small fee to use the connection but it’s more than your money they’re stealing. After you connect you’re prompted to enter credit card information. Of course, this info is shared with the scammer.

In another version, a hacker inserts him or herself between your computer and the Wi-Fi connection. Everything you do online such as make a purchase or log into an account is now transmitted through the scammer's computer. This means they can now access passwords, credit card information and other data you've entered online.

Protect Yourself From a Wi-Fi Scam

Here are some suggestions to safely use public Wi-Fi connections:

  • Be sure you’re using the correct Wi-Fi connection: If you’re in a place that offers free Wi-Fi, verify the name of the connection before joining. Scammers often set up fake hotspots next to real ones.
  • Be careful how you use public Wi-Fi: When using a hotspot to log into an account or make a purchase, be sure the site is fully encrypted (Use "https").
  • Consider using a VPN: If you regularly access public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt traffic between your computer and the Internet, even on unsecured networks.
  • Always use antivirus software and a firewall. Protect your computer by using anti-virus software and a firewall from a reputable company.
  • Use good password sense: Protect yourself from hacking by using strong passwords and creating a different password for each account.

For More Information, check out these tips from the Federal Trade Commission on using public Wi-Fi networks.

To learn more about scams, go to BBB Scam Tips. To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.