TAMPA, Florida (WTSP) -- There’s a high-tech crime alert you should know about heading into the holiday shopping season. Cyber thieves have found a new way to try to steal your financial information and maybe more.
Here’s how the latest scam works: if you were hanging out at your favorite coffee joint and found a USB drive, you might think it's your lucky day. They’re handy, and although a lot cheaper than they used to be – they can get pretty pricey.
But watch out. That drive may be a plant.
Gigabyte grinches are purposely placing USB thumb drives in spots where you hang out, hoping you’ll take the bait so they can steal from you.
“I've never heard of planting USBs,” said Carolyn Thanlan, working on her computer at the new Buddy Brew location in Hyde Park.
“That’s crazy!” added Yailene Felipe at the next table over.
Lots of people admit if they found a USB drive, they'd consider keeping it, or at least pop the thing into their computer to see if they could find who it belonged to.
“You know, I can see how people would take them because it's a free memory drive,” said Betty Velazquez, finishing up her sip of coffee.
In any case, Brett Kappes, who owns Performance Computer Group in South Tampa, says putting that thumb drive in your computer, tablet or phone is a “very bad idea.”
Kappes says there’s a new, rapidly spreading program called Bad USB out there.
It’s embedded in thumb drives. Virtually undetectable, it can hijack your info, your camera, and even hold your device for ransom.
“It's a danger that people have never had to think about before. And it is something you should consider,” said Kappes.
Thumb drives are so cheap now, says Kappes, they’re intentionally being left at coffee shops, on college campuses, and even at libraries and more.
In Australia, police even had to issue a warning after hundreds of the drives were sent to people's mailboxes.
“Getting something in the mail, you think it's free, and you think it's blank,” said Erin Kearney, sipping coffee while working on her computer.
In a recent experiment, nearly 300 USB thumb drives were left on a college campus. Almost half the students who found them put them right into their computers.
Kearney says she would just turn the drive into management in case someone lost it, but she can see how students, especially, might be tempted.
“You're definitely on a budget. So, one laying there could potentially be a concern,” said Kearney.
Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to consider using online storage, use thumb drives only from a trusted source, or make sure they are purchased at retail and still in a sealed package.
The bait scam and Bad USB program are still so new, experts say it could take up to 10 years for them to figure out how to reformat thumb drives in a way that would protect them from the malicious software.
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