No joy: Juice jacking

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Just in time for the holiday season, scammers have found a new way to get your tinsel in a tangle.

It’s called “juice-jacking.”

As if the stress and chaos of shopping and traveling isn’t enough, this new scam is popping up in airports, hotels and shopping malls.

The scam is tied into our dependence on our smartphones. Say after a long day of traveling and surviving the hustle and bustle of gift searching, you take a glance at your phone to notice your battery is drained. A dead cell phone is pretty much useless and is a nightmare when you are away from home trying to get things done.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns holiday travelers and shoppers about “juice jacking.” It may sound like a new diet craze or an extreme workout supplement, but it’s actually a form of phone hijacking.

This is how it works: your phone is dead but, lucky you, there’s a convenient USB charging station nearby. You plug in to charge up, and breathe a sigh of relief watching the battery power increase bit by bit.

But what no one can see is what’s on the other end of the USB cable. USB cables allow for smartphones to charge up, but they also allow for the transfer of data. This is risky business when that data ends up in malicious hands. Conartists have developed a way to convert these charging stations into data-transfer ports. Malicious devices may be hidden behind the kiosk.

In “juice jacking,” two things can happen once you’ve plugged in.

First, malware can be injected into the device. Malware is a virus that can affect phones in many ways, including locking up your phone and holding it hostage. It also gives hackers access to the personal data stored on your phone.

Alternatively, but equally harmful, personal information can be extracted. When plugging in via USB, your phone will want to sync with the device you’re connected to. The process of pairing means copying over your personal data which includes photos, contacts and account information.

Neither one of these outcomes is good news for you or your phone. But have no fear. Here’s what you can do to avoid it:

When in public, charge your phone from a wall outlet using the power adapter. Avoid charging via USB cables, especially those connected to charging stations.

Consider purchasing and bringing a personal power charger with you for long travel days. This keeps everything in your own hands.

Pay attention to alerts popping up on your phone. Once you plug in, you may get asked “Trust this computer?” With the tap of a button you can block or allow access to your data.

Make sure you are updating your phone’s software. Often, these updates include security patches that make your device more secure.

If you have a grinch trying to steal your holiday joy, report it to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org. This free resource provides a place to research and submit scam-related information so BBB can investigate further and educate others.

***

BBB is here to help you, so if you have any questions or information about scams you have seen, please let us know. We’ll be happy to help! Jason can be reached at jason.kama@thebbb.org or 208-342-4649.

For more information on businesses and complaints, find the contact information for your closest office at https://www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-northwest-pacific.

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