Protecting email While Traveling From Identity Theft

You’re traveling on business or vacation and you log into a public computer to check your email. You enter your credentials, read a few emails, delete some spam, fire off a note to a colleague at work, and log out. You think nothing of it, but before you know it, your email account has been hijacked. Your friends, family and business associates all receive the following message, sent from your account:

“While traveling in Europe I was approached by what looked like a homeless man who bumped into me, then he apologized. A few minutes later I went to a café to have lunch. But when I went to pay, my wallet was gone. I was pickpocketed! Now I’m stuck here without any money, can you send me money via a wire transfer? I promise to pay you back as soon as I get home!”

Most of your contacts are probably too savvy to fall for this, but maybe your gullible aunt responds. She believes she’s engaging in an email conversation with you, but it’s actually a scammer who’s jacked your account. So she falls for the ruse and wires a couple thousand dollars to a criminal somewhere in Europe.

Think it can’t happen to you or anyone you know? This week, I met someone who actually pulled the money out of his account and wired it. This was an educated person who should have known better. But when he saw a cry for help, his first instinct was to assist a loved one, and he did what many good people would do.

This scam is easy, and it’s happening more frequently. I’m amazed that I’m not encountering a new victim of this particular crime every ten minutes. There are a few simple ways to hack into an email account. A public computer at a hotel, library, or internet café could have spyware or a keylogger installed. This type of hardware or software can record everything you do on a PC. If you use your own laptop on an unsecured public wireless connection, your data could be intercepted via wireless packets in the air. You could also accidently log on to an “evil twin,” a wireless network that appears to be a legitimate WiFi spot, but is actually being broadcast via a router or computer, allowing a criminal hacker to sift through all your data.

The chance of someone accessing your laptop via a public WiFi connection is slim, but it does happen. Your best bet is to only log into websites that are secure. The web address should begin with https://www… The “S” in “https” indicates that the site is secure. Otherwise, you should download and install private networking software, such as WiTopia. If you use a public computer at a hotel, library or internet café, you are at the mercy of the administrator who set up the PC, or whoever used the computer before you, unless you make an investment in a very cool USB drive called IronKey. This small, secure drive combines hardware, software, and services that allow you to log into any PC with an available USB drive.

1. And you should always protect yourself from identity theft. Get a credit freeze. Go to and follow the steps for your particular state. This is an absolutely necessary tool to secure your credit. In most cases, it prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. This makes your Social Security number useless to a potential identity thief.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Evangelist to McAfee. See him on Anderson Cooper discussing mobile security and identity theft(Disclosures)

Robert Siciliano Identity theft speaker discusses wireless hacking on Fox News