BBB: Free Wi-Fi ID theft, vacation rental scams

July 18, 2013

Free Wi-Fi - An Open Door to I.D. Theft, Warns Better Business Bureau

On a summer vacation, you should be able to sit back and relax, not worry about your identity being stolen. Unfortunately, there have been more and more reports of scammers trying to collect personal information by creating unsecured Wi-Fi zones near hotels that guests can connect to for free.

"Checking personal and work email, as well as updating social media posts while on vacation are common," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.

"Scammers know that because many hotels charge for Wi-Fi, a free connection looks appealing. However, by connecting to an unknown and unsecure Wi-Fi connection, you are letting the owner of the connection see all your Internet activity," Bernas stated. "This could include your personal information, banking information and other Internet browsing activity."

The BBB chief explained that when something claims to be free, it should always be a red flag to be cautious. "If you must connect to the Internet, paying the hotel fee may be worth it rather than having your personal information wind up in the hands of criminals," he noted.

The BBB offers the following advice for vacationers looking to connect to Wi-Fi zones:

  • Use extreme caution when connecting to Wi-Fi on vacation. Connecting to free Wi-Fi zones can endanger you because of the transparency between your device and the owner of the connection. If you must connect to the internet, use the hotel's Wi-Fi, as it is less likely to be hacked.

  • Avoid Wi-Fi connections near conferences or large events. If there is a big event going on near your location, be wary of Wi-Fi connections, since criminals look at these events as opportunities to gather personal information of individuals.

  • Make sure your computer is not set up to automatically connect to networks. If you are set up to connect to networks, you could be connecting to an unknown, unsecured network without knowing it.

  • Make sure your firewall is enabled. A firewall helps protect your computer from unauthorized users gaining access by way of the internet or a connection. This can help decrease the likelihood of criminals installing viruses on your device.

  • Do important online work, such as banking, at home if possible. If you will end up needing to connect to Wi-Fi, avoid using it for tasks such as banking. Financial activity is one of the key activities hackers are looking for. Save that for home or on your mobile device.

For more advice on protecting your identity, visit

Travelers Must Be Warned About Vacation Rental Scams, Says Better Business Bureau

The warm summer months are a busy time to travel. Since traveling can be expensive, a lot of consumers try to find the best deals when looking for vacation rental homes. However, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Scam artists can fool people in a variety of ways. They place fake ads online, listing vacation rentals for great deals. They steal property descriptions and photographs that are listed on legit real estate websites, or they post addresses from homes that aren't up for rent. Some even make up a fake address. After posting the ad, scam artists extract personal information from people who respond, and they pretend to be the owner. Usually, these techniques are used for properties in college towns or popular retirement areas. Some people also rent an empty house. Once the real residents return, they come home to unwanted residents in their home.

"Vacationers are always looking for the best deal when planning a trip," said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois. "But it is important to check out the property and real estate agency before putting down money for a vacation home. There are many scanners who list fake deals to take large amounts of money from innocent people."

BBB advises consumers to do the following to avoid vacation rental scams:

  • Search the property. Check out the property before paying anything. Do an online search of the property, with names, phone numbers and addresses in the ad. If you can't find search results saying the property is for sale, it probably isn't.

  • Communicate with the agent. Talk to the agent over the phone, not via email. Be careful of foreign area codes or strange American ones. When emailing, watch for bad grammar or the person not responding.

  • Don't pay with a debit card. When submitting money, credit cards or PayPal are the safest options. Never use a debit card or wire transfer because these are the payment methods that scammers prefer.

  • Verify the agent or the owner. If working with a real estate agent, always check his or her qualifications. Search licensing information for both with the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials

For more information on finding businesses and consumer tips you can trust, visit

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.