Do you ever wonder why more and more Americans are becoming victims of identity fraud? One of the chief reasons is our irresponsible mobile behavior, according to the 2012 Identity Fraud Report by Javelin Strategy & Research. The fact is, as the number of hotspots and wireless devices continues to explode, identity fraud is skyrocketing. The Javelin report found that 11.6 million adults in the U.S. were victims of ID fraud last year – 13% more than in 2010.
That’s not surprising, according Tom Bartholomy, President of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont in Charlotte, North Carolina. The BBB recently received complaints from ID fraud victims who’d been hacked after they had connected to Wifi hotspots at the Charlotte-Douglas Airport. “Their laptops were connected through their phones,” says Bartholomy. “Then their information was stolen from their laptops.” It was only when the unsuspecting airport hotspot users checked their bank and credit card accounts that they realized something was up.
Consumers Connecting to Hotspots Don’t Understand the Dangers
One airport hotspot hacking victim told the Better Business Bureau that because he’d gone through airport security, he believed that everything past that point would be protected. Faulty assumptions that like that are extremely common among public hotspot users, according to a 2012 survey of American Internet users by the mobile broadband provider NetZero. The survey found that 64% of those who use unsecure wireless networks say they have little or no concern about using them.
According to a 2011 survey conducted for the Wi-Fi Alliance, only 18% of public Wifi users reported that they use a VPN to encrypt their information when they’re logged into hotspots. That means their sensitive information is easily accessible to hackers. And that’s not the worst of it. The survey also revealed that that those who had suffered the effects of a computer virus are no more likely to have better Wifi security behavior than those who haven’t been hit. This in spite of widespread and well publicized hotspot threats about everything from malware to wireless snooping of email and log-in information.
“What we’re hearing from consumers is very much in line with those studies,” says the BBB’s Tom Bartholomy. “Their assumption is that Wifi hotspots would be as safe as using a desktop. In other words, why would using a stick in the sky be any different than using a modem at home?”
By 2015, the number of Wifi hotspots will increase 350%, bringing the total to five million hotspots worldwide, according to a report from the Wireless Broadband Alliance. So unless consumers get wise to the risks of using public hotspots, millions more will become identity fraud statistics every year. “The scammers are way ahead of the average consumer,” says Tom Bartholomy of the Better Business Bureau. “And that’s not likely to change any time soon.”
How to Disconnect from Hotspot Hacking Risks
The Better Business Bureau offers this advice when you’re connecting to public Wifi networks:
- Never connect to any unfamiliar network. Disable automatic connections to wireless networks.
- Turn off file sharing when you’re on the road .
- When you use public Wifi networks, the BBB says it’s wise to use a virtual private network to prevent hackers from intercepting your data.
The Federal Trade Commission also recommends that if you access online accounts through Wifi hotspots, you use a personal VPN to encrypt traffic between your computer and the Internet. Personal VPNs like PRIVATE WiFi™ protect your sensitive information by making it invisible to hackers, even when you’re on unsecure networks. That means your identity is safe every time you go online.