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The New Wi-Fi Scam That Steals Your Credit Card Number

Hackers have a sneaky new way of stealing your personal information like credit card and social security numbers.

There’s an old saying: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In the travel world, of course, that’s not always true. Things like free upgrades, free drinks, and free in-flight perks sometimes really do come with no strings attached. Then again, things like timeshares and travel clubs—which may at first seem like great ideas—don’t always live up to the hype.

And now we can add another “too good to be true” item to the list: free Wi-Fi.

I’m not talking about the free Wi-Fi scam du jour that we highlighted around this time last year—namely, when a hotel promises free Wi-Fi but provides such a slow connection that you need to shell out up to $15 per day extra for a decent connection.

Nope, the newest Wi-Fi scam (as reported by NBC) is even more nefarious.

Imagine you’re in your hotel’s lobby (or the airport, or at a popular tourist attraction, or in a coffee shop—the possibilities are endless) and there you find the Shangri-La of our connected world: a free Wi-Fi hotspot that doesn’t require a password. You log in, check your Facebook, read a few articles (ours, hopefully), and then go on your merry way.

One problem. That free Wi-Fi hot spot may be run by hackers, and they may be targeting your personal information and data: private pictures and videos, your social security number, your credit card, your mobile payment accounts, or your insurance information, just for starters.

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Hackers may use both SSL decryption (to capture your personal information) and SSL stripping (to downgrade secure domains—those URLS that start with “https” instead of “http”—and gain access to your passwords and payment information).

Nice people, right?

So, the moral of the story here: Don’t just blindly accept that the free Wi-Fi you’re seeing is legit. And even if you’re expecting there to be free Wi-Fi available wherever you’re choosing to log in, make sure you’re connecting to the right free hotspot. Otherwise you might just find a hacker waiting for you on the other side.

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Josh Roberts is SmarterTravel’s Managing Editor. Follow him on Instagram @jauntist and on Twitter @jauntist. Just make sure you’re using a secure connection first.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Stefan Klein)

By Josh Roberts

Josh Roberts believes the best trips involve long hikes and muddy boots. His life goals haven't changed much since he was a kid: He still wants to be Indiana Jones when he grows up.

Follow him on Twitter (@joshwhowrites) and Instagram (@joshwhowrites), and visit his website (joshrobertsbooks.com) or Goodreads page to learn more about his forthcoming novel.

Josh joined SmarterTravel in 2001, and is an active member in both the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

In addition to SmarterTravel, he has written for USA Today, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Travel, The Huffington Post, Airfarewatchdog, TripAdvisor, Jetsetter, ABC News, Oyster, and Business Insider. His travel photography can be seen in Britain and Ireland's Best Wild Places, published by Penguin UK.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A lacrosse ball. It's small, lightweight, and works wonders on loosening up tight muscles."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Being the first to discover an ancient lost city. Failing that, visiting as many of the already-discovered ancient ruins as possible."

Travel Motto: "Not all those who wander are lost." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle."

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