From cafes to a friend’s house, wherever we go, many of us are guilty of looking for free Wi-Fi. Deloitte data found 88 per cent of Australians have a smartphone, and 43 per cent of users exceed their data limit. In a quest to save data, cell phone users are connecting to ‘free’ Wi-Fi networks whenever they can get the chance.
Unfortunately, a Wi-Fi network might be free, but it can still cost you, putting your personal and banking information at risk of being stolen via a phishing scam.
Common phishing scams in Australia
Phishing scams are a form of online theft in which a scammer will try to trick the victim into handing over personal and sensitive information so they can access things like your bank account. Different variations of these scams have been around for a while. In fact, phishing scams started with letters and phone calls. Attackers would explain that they were someone from the victim’s bank, and they needed to verify some of their personal details (or a similar scheme of that nature) and would trick people out of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
But these scams are still around, and they’re growing in popularity here in Australia. Just look at how many we’ve seen so far this year:
Here’s a snapshot of current and emerging scams targeting Australians, based on reports to Scamwatch last week pic.twitter.com/hAygJD8wPO
— Scamwatch_gov_au (@Scamwatch_gov) February 14, 2018
However, these scams have since evolved beyond letters, phone calls and even email, in order to trick the tech-savvy generation. And that’s how the ‘free’ Wi-Fi phishing scams have come about, and they’re quickly becoming a big issue across the country.
The severity of free Wi-Fi phishing scams
These days, online thieves are cleverly striking us where we are most vulnerable – in our pursuit to save precious data by finding free Wi-Fi portals. Unfortunately, it’s easier to fall into this trap than you’d think – all you have to do is sign into a so-called ‘free’ Wi-Fi network and you’re compromised.
How does it work? Well, this free network is actually an attacker’s personal network that they’ve set up to make look like the public offering, explains Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). Because you’re using the attacker’s connection to use the internet, traffic like your usernames and passwords are completely visible to the onlooker. That means, if you’re checking your bank account at the cafe to make sure you can afford that extra cup of coffee, your financial information is now accessible to the stranger.
At least 5 per cent of Australians experience identity theft every year.
Further, ASD explains that if you have your device set up to allow file sharing, the attacker can plant malware or steal files from you and leave software so you can never track down the perpetrator in the future. All of this is completely unbeknownst to you.
If you fall victim to a ‘free’ Wi-Fi phishing scam, you can have your personal information – including usernames, passwords, files and, ultimately, your identity – stolen. In fact, at least 5 per cent of Australians experience identity theft every year, reports the government’s latest identity crime report. You can also end up with a spyware on your portable device, meaning when you use your computer, hackers can connect whenever they want without you even knowing.
But free Wi-Fi is a necessary evil these days, so is it possible to join a free network without all the risk?
Tips on how to stay safe from phishing scams
There’s currently no way to stay completely safe from phishing scams, but if you’re smart you can keep yourself safe. Here are some tips to keep in mind for the next time you’re in search of a free Wi-Fi portal.
- Always avoid logging into sensitive information like your bank account unless using a trusted, secure connection.
- Only enter your information into sites with the URL “https” – the ‘s’ stands for secure, however, you should review the URL for spelling mistakes or irregularities in the name as this indicates a fake site.
- If you receive a suspicious email from your bank, work, or even from a friend or family member, make sure you check with the official source before giving out information.
- Bring your own portable Wi-Fi router so you don’t have to share with the others if you need to access sensitive information while in public.
— ato.gov.au (@ato_gov_au) February 15, 2018