Don't get skimmed

With holiday gauntlet quickly approaching, travel – whether to see family or for a quick jaunt to a warmer climate – may be in your cards. Just like we rely on our smartphones to accomplish everyday tasks, these days your smartphone can carry your airplane boarding pass or contactless payment credentials while traveling.

If your travel is on the longer end of the spectrum, let's say more than 8 hours, you may be anxious about your smartphone battery lasting the entire duration of your trip. Gone are the days when smartphones had replaceable batteries where you could carry a fully charged extra battery to swap in if your battery dies mid-journey!

If you are traveling by car, you can buy one of those $10 cigarette socket battery chargers for your smartphone to quell the anxiety of premature smartphone death. But if you are traveling by other modes of transportation, for example an airplane, what options do you have?

Whether economy, business or first class, compared to five years ago chances are better that your seat will come with power ports to plug in and charge while up in the air. It has also become common that airports install charging stations where weary travelers can plug in their electronic gadgets for a quick replenishing of the battery during layover.

The question is, should you even use those free amenities provided in public areas?

You probably heard of credit/debit card or ATM card “skimmers” where the nefarious will put a little device over the original reader to steal your card information. True, with the advent of “chipped” credit/debit cards, it has become harder for the nefarious to skim but the fact remains that the magnetic strip still also exists on most, if not all, stateside-issued credit/debit cards due to the fact that not all merchants have invested in newer card terminals that accept chipped cards.

As smartphone ownership and usage continue to have a captive audience in our real world, nefarious are also adapting and finding ways to con smartphone users. Similar to the hard-to-detect credit/debit card or ATM card skimmer apparatus, there have been reports of the nefarious resorting to “smartphone skimming” by taking over public charging stations or outlets.

So my answer to the earlier question of whether to use those free amenities will be, “Nah, you shouldn’t.” There’s always a chance that the free amenity provided with good intentions may have already been compromised by the nefarious to steal data from your smartphone if plugged in to charge the battery. This is because the smartphone charging cable has always been able to charge the battery and transfer data.

If you are worried about your smartphone running out of juice during your travels, purchase one of those “power banks.” Basically these are rechargeable batteries with big capacities that are capable of charging your smartphone a couple times over (depending on the size of the power bank of course). Better to be safe than sorry!

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with almost 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 11, Issue 22, Posted 9:24 AM, 11.19.2019