Beware that hotel Wi-Fi connection

Thieves are now targeting hotel wi-fi connections with fake networks.
Thieves are now targeting hotel wi-fi connections with fake networks. Photo: Anthea Russo

A whole, random, illegal industry has grown up around scamming travellers, on which Travellers Check, in its various guises, has been reporting since 1990.

We have to keep returning to the subject because there was never going to be a magic bullet solution. Thieves keep working away at methods to separate tourists from their money.

And the fact that billions of dollars a day in travel transactions are now changing hands electronically means there has been an explosion of opportunity for wrongdoers.

Banks and credit card companies are now engaged in a war to prevent robbers breaking in to their systems and, more often than not, the customer himself/herself is the weak link in the wall.

The length thieves will now go to and the methods they employ to get your credit details are scary. And one of their target markets is hotel guests.

In one series of warnings published this week, there are four scams identified ranging from the mundane to the bizarre.

Among the methods recently identified by sources including the US Federal Trade Commission, the US Secret Service and the US Department of Homeland Security is the "soundalike wireless network".

After you check into to your room, one of the first things you do is to search for wireless networks on your laptop or smart phone and you may find one that sounds like it's part of the hotel.

However, it can turn out the network doesn't belong to the hotel at all, but to a scammer trying to steal information it intercepts over the rogue connection.

In other words, hotel precincts are now prime targets for thieves with the technical savvy to set up electronic trawling networks for credit card information.

Often, it's the last thing you feel like doing if you're checking in after a long flight.

But it's worth concentrating for the few minutes it takes to get exact details of the hotel intranet address and the passkey arrangement.

The US authorities warn that you never know when any public Wi-Fi hotspot is being used to gather user information.

Even harder to detect is the computer keystroke monitoring software now available to miscreants to copy credit card details through "keylogging" software on computers in hotel business centres.

US website, Krebs on Security, reveals that officials of the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security warned that "suspects were able to obtain large amounts of information including other guests personally identifiable information (PII), log in credentials to bank, retirement and personal webmail accounts, as well as other sensitive data flowing through the business center's computers".

There's a limit to which I'd trust a hotel brand to ensure it takes steps against allowing scams like "keylogging" on its property.

But every traveller who's paying for a hotel room – that is, all non-corporate travellers – would have to be vulnerable to such scams as they are often buying in the market below five-star standard.

How you treat such potentially non-secure web connections takes on a whole new meaning. For example, almost every traveller is going to use email on the road, so just ensure you email account doesn't contain credit card details if it is ever hacked.

Another scam is the credit card info request from someone claiming to be from the front desk, who rings your room and says there's a problem with your credit card details, which you must provide again.

Once again, the general caution of the modern age applies: never give out you credit card details over the phone unless you're sure of the bona fides of the caller.

The danger is that it's not the "front desk" at all. If there is really a problem, sort it out in person at the front desk.

A similar scam is the fake fast food flyers pushed under your hotel room door, promising pizza delivery – just phone, place your order and leave your credit card details.

But, of course, the pizza never arrives and you've just given your credit card details to a stranger from an "organisation" you've never heard of.

There's no end to the ingenuity of idle minds – like the hotel that's "closed" for renovations, but your cab driver knows a better one he can take you to; or the cashier who's on the phone while she's serving you – she's actually photographing your credit card details.

Those examples turn up in a list of the world's 40 worst travel scams compiled by flight comparison website, justtheflight.co.uk.

Add them to Travellers Check's previous compilation of scams.

What travel scams have you come across during your travels? Share your tips and experiences below.

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