Your cell phone can be a valuable traveling companion. But if you need to charge it on the go, there’s a precaution you need to take that could save you from financial ruin.
A warning from the FBI has alerted U.S. phone users to the dangers of using public USB charging stations — which is something that money expert Clark Howard has long cautioned against.
Watch Out for This Public Charging Station Scam
“Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices,” the FBI’s Denver office recently posted on social media.
Public Charging Station Scam: What Is ‘Juice-Jacking’?
What the FBI is referring to is called “juice-jacking,” a scam that preys upon cell phone users looking to “juice” up their devices by using public USB charging stations. While you are charging your phone, cybercriminals can either lock your phone or export personal data and passwords, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Clark says the financial damage done by such a scam can be devastating to your wallet. “Your cellphones unlock so much of your life and particularly are a direct link to so much of your finances.”
But he adds that crooks can victimize not only travelers but all sorts of people in public spaces who are trying to do something as innocent as charging their cell phones.
“A criminal in a public space — coffee shop, or most anywhere — will then download malware right through the USB type A they plug in. Then every time somebody plugs in there, they’re able to steal information from their device by uploading on it malware that is spyware,” he says. “It’s really simple.”
Juice-Jacking: How To Stay Safe
In line with advice from the FBI and FCC, Clark says, “Don’t use public chargers. You eliminate all this by plugging into electricity.”
Here are some additional tips from the FCC:
- When traveling carry your own USB cables with you.
- Bring an external battery for your cell phone.
- “Consider carrying a charging-only cable, which prevents data from sending or receiving while charging, from a trusted supplier,” the agency says.
Cybercriminals are compromising cell phone charging stations in airports and other public spaces, but you can avoid being victimized by making a small investment in some portable electronics.
If you can, always carry a personal charger with you. Having your own portable charger is not only an inexpensive option, but it’s also the safest way to go.