MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - "Free" isn't always free. Sometimes, it's fake.
Sometimes, it's a trap, especially when it comes to public Wi-Fi.
The Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South just put out an alert about the most common "free Wi-Fi" scams:
* IDENTITY THIEF DISGUISED AS A "HOTSPOT." The BBB warned that scam artists will often set up in a public place, then launch a publicly accessible hotspot identified as "Free Public Wi-Fi" or as the free Wi-Fi of a nearby business. When consumers log on, the scammers steal their passwords, log-ins, even their credit or debit card numbers if they're shopping or banking online.
* FEE-BASED PUBLIC WI-FI. Beware a public hotspot that requires a small fee to connect. The BBB said after a user connects, the hotspot will prompt the user for credit card information, then the user's card number is stolen.
* WI-FI INTERCEPTION. A hacker piggy-backs a legitimate public Wi-Fi connection and inserts himself between the user and the access point. This one's like a skimmer installed on a gas pump's legitimate payment card data thread. The scammer just cherry-picks a user's password and personal information as he or she transmits them through the real Wi-Fi.
THE BBB'S TIPS FOR SAFE PUBLIC WI-FI CONNECTIONS:
* Be sure you're using the correct Wi-Fi connection. If you are in a place that offers free Wi-Fi, verify the name of the connection before joining.
* Be careful how you use public Wi-Fi. Don't log into your banking site or a shopping site unless you're sure the site is fully encrypted (https in the URL).
* Consider using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts traffic between your computer and the Internet, even on unsecured networks. To create a VPN in Windows XP:
- Open the Network Connections window and click "Create a new connection."
- Select Connect to the network at my workplace and click Next.
- Select Virtual Private Network connection and click Next.
- Enter a name for the connection and click Next.
* Always use anti-virus software and a firewall.
* Use good password sense. Come up with a common theme (sport, date, nostalgic event) for a password, mixing numbers, letters, capitalization and symbols, then change them up for different accounts.