Kelvin Collins

Kelvin Collins

If you are traveling and your battery is running low, a charging station may seem like a lucky find. But think twice before plugging in your phone or other device! These USB charging stations – often found in spots popular with travelers – are part of a new cyber-theft tactic called “juice jacking." 

Here’s how the scam works: You’re in a public place, such as a hotel, coffee shop or airport, and you need to charge your phone. You notice a free, public charging station that uses a USB cable. No need to bring your own plug!

You plug in your phone, and everything seems okay at first. But soon your phone starts acting strangely. Maybe your battery or data plan drain faster than normal. Or your phone is especially slow. These are signs that you may have malware running in the background.

The “charging station” was actually a way for scammers to download malware to your phone. This software can record and/or send private details such as passwords, addresses – or even a full backup of the phone – to thieves. 

Tips to safely charge your device when on the road: 

• Avoid using USB charging stations. Use an AC power outlet or car charger instead. Be sure to bring these when traveling.

• If you travel frequently, invest in a portable charger or external battery. Or carry a charging-only cable, which prevents anyone from downloading data to your phone when charging.

• Keep your phone up to date. Be sure to update your operating system and anti-virus software on your phone or other devices.

How can you tell if your phone has been infected with malware? Look for unusual changes in your phone’s speed, data usage or battery life. Sudden changes in these areas could be a sign that you have malware running in the background. Have you noticed any new apps showing up on your phone that you didn’t download? Or even calls or texts that you didn’t send? If so, a hacker may have access to your phone.

Tips to avoid hackers and malware: 

• Look into mobile security software. As we store more and more of our personal and financial identity on our phones, we should take the same precautions that we use for our personal computers.

• Password protect your phone with a strong password or PIN that won’t be easily guessed.

• Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks. Most of these public networks are unsecured, so hackers can capture your information as it moves across the network. That email or credit card transaction is now easily seen by an experienced shyster with nefarious intentions.

• Never click on links or download attachments from unknown emails, social media posts or text messages. Out-of-the-blue messages are often attempts to install malware on your phone and/or steal your personal information.

• Never leave your device unattended. While there are numerous dangers online, don’t forget that some criminals still use the tried-and-true method of grabbing your phone when you’re not looking. Always keep your phone secure.

If you have been the victim of a phone hacking scam, report your experience on the bbb.org/scamtracker. The information you share can help other people protect themselves from similar schemes.

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB by phone at 800-763-4222, online at bbb.org or email info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org.