Phone charging station

Charging Your Phone in Public? Tips to Stay Safe from Scammers

Arizona Federal Staff

Smartphones have become an ever-present part of our lives – and keeping our phones charged when we’re on the go can be a challenge. While many public places now provide USB ports in addition to electrical outlets, use caution when charging your phone in public.

Careful using USB ports and charging cables

Tiny computers can be hooked into the ports by scammers that can install malicious programs on your phone when you plug your phone in. These programs report back personally identifiable information that scammers use to commit identity theft.

Scammers can also use the connection to your phone to look through your phone’s contents, stealing browser history data – including passwords. It’s called “Juice Jacking,” and it can take as little as three minutes for them to break your phone wide open.

Using someone else’s charger cable can also be a risk. Cyberhackers can implant charging cables with malware that can be used to hijack mobile devices and computers. Cybersecurity experts are warning against using a stranger’s charging cable, or even borrowing one from an airport official or front-desk concierge at a hotel.

Scammers choose places where they can do the most damage airports, coffee shops, shopping malls and other places where people hang out. If you’re at a place you trust, feel free to use the power. However, if you’re in a public place, watch out!

Use these tips to stay safe 

1. Use a power plug

The easiest way to thwart the scam is to only plug your phone into electrical outlets. There’s no computer on the other side there. The only problem with this option is you have to carry around your own power cord and plug.

It’s a hassle to carry one more thing, but it’s worth it to avoid compromising your personal information. Consider shopping around to find a compact, square converter and keep it in your bag. If a power plug is a real hassle, only carry it on days when your phone is low on juice.

2. Pick up a battery

You can also carry your power solutions with you. Advancements in battery technology have made them smaller and more efficient than ever. You can find a battery pack the size of a pen that will refill your smartphone on a full charge. Slightly larger packs can provide several days’ worth of charge if you’ve got a little more space.

If it’s too much of a hassle to carry around, try keeping one in your glove compartment for emergencies. That way, you can grab it when you need it and charge it on the road. You’re not carrying around an extra piece of hardware all the time, but you get the security of knowing you’ve got a charge if you need one.

3. Conserve your power

The easiest way to avoid using a public charging station is not to need one in the first place. There are several things you can do to save your phone’s charge if it looks like you’re running low. Even doing something like changing your wallpaper to all black will help add precious seconds to your run time.

For slightly more savings, keep your apps updated. One of the reason developers constantly release new versions is because they've found ways to make things run more smoothly. Running outdated software could be chewing up your battery life.

Also, don’t enable auto-update. This can drain data in a hurry while burning through battery life. Update apps manually when you’re connected to WiFi, or just disable automatic updates if your battery situation is looking dicey.


For more tips on how to keep your information safe, check out Ways to Protect Your Information Online.