The Definition: The Wi-Fi Scam is scamming gone high-tech. Setting up in one of the now-common free, wireless access locations so frequently found in hotel lobbies, airports or coffee shops, our hustler-turned-techie steals credit card information from unsuspecting marks. Before he leaves the area, he has gone on an on-line shopping spree, and left a roomful of dupes with fraudulent credit card charges.
The Mark: It is becoming more and more common these days for laptop owners to use their computers on unsecured networks in public places. These Wi-Fi access points are quite accommodating and convenient, but unless your anti-scam program is running, you, too can be a victim of the Wi-Fi hustle.
The Scam: Hustling has been around as long as money, and the art of the scam has proven to be as adaptable as mankind itself. When technology advances, larceny advances with it.
So it is with the Wi-Fi Scam. Having pre-tested his system, the swindler enters a hotel lobby or airport waiting area and sets up his laptop. He has configured it so that his laptop can hijack the internet signal at the access point – because of its proximity to other users, he putting out a more powerful signal than the hotel, café or airport.
As the marks filter in and set up their computers, little do they know that when they attempt to log on, it will be the scammer’s network onto which they will be logging – not the hotels.
As part of the log-in process, the victims will be asked for sensitive credit card information. Since they are not dealing with the Wi-Fi network, but with a network in the scammer’s computer, everything they input will be read directly by the thief sitting in their midst.
What would you buy online of it was free? Plasma televisions? Stereo equipment? Easily-fenced notebook computers or I-Pods? Let your imagination run wild – because that’s what our hustler is doing. As quickly as he gains your sensitive credit card information, he just as quickly goes shopping – using just a few keystrokes to run up thousands of pounds of bills at your expense.
In a busy location, this scam can net the swindler dozens of credit card numbers in a short period of time, with virtually no chance of being discovered. The beauty of it is that the marks are not even aware that their funds are being diverted, as they would be if it were a lower-tech scam involving actual paper notes. The mark does not need to be fooled, or dipped, or convinced of anything. He simply must be sitting down to do a little computer business or web-surfing – quite a common thing these days. Quite common, yes, but as you can see, potentially quite dangerous.
The Lesson Learned: Quite simple, really. If you are offering sensitive information on line – trust no one! Be absolutely sure of the network you are on – especially if it is wireless. Check with the hotel when you first log in; have them confirm that what you are seeing is, indeed, their access point. And if it doesn’t look absolutely official and correct, never let sensitive information pass from your head to the keyboard – you could be a victim of a modern day version of the old highway robber: the “information-super-highway” robber.