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Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi

You can protect yourself from online hackers

Public wifi dangers

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Simple precautions can make you less vulnerable when using Wi-Fi in a public place..

When we’re out grabbing a latte and checking emails, we rarely think about creepy cyberstalkers trying to snatch our identity—but we should.

I’ve learned from AARP’s Fraud Watch Network that cyberfraud is an equal opportunity crime. It can victimize anyone at any age — from a millennial Snapchatter camped out at a cafe, to a retiree checking on 401(k) withdrawals via free airport Wi-Fi. In many cases, we have dumb luck to thank for not becoming victims. Yet, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.



Indulging in the delights of online activity has turned many of us into insatiable information consumers, and often overly generous information sharers. That’s where thieves find their opportunity. While we might intend to restrict our interactions to a circle of our own choosing, when we use public Wi-Fi, we’re taking a risk of getting hacked.

A nearby patron with even the most modest criminal talent can grab our credit card numbers, emails, passwords and bank information without our knowledge if we’re not careful. Their tactics can be as low-tech as reading over our shoulder, or as involved as establishing a fake Wi-Fi network with a name similar to the hot spot connection we’re expecting to use (the “Evil Twin” hack). Either way, the web offers aspiring fraudsters easy access to tools and instructions on how to steal our stuff.

Whatever the trick, the cost can be devastating. There were 13 million identity theft victims last year, with $35,600 stolen every minute.

With some simple precautions, we can make ourselves less vulnerable when we use Wi-Fi in a public place – or even at home.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network offers four tips to help:

  • Don’t access your email, online bank or credit card accounts using public Wi-Fi
  • Watch out for fake Wi-Fi at coffee shops, hotels or other free hot spots – network names that are close, but not exactly right. Employees can give you the correct connection name and IP address.
  • Don’t let your mobile device automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi; manually select the network you want
  • Don’t surf using an unknown public network if the website requires sensitive information – like online shopping

To these, I would add: Sit where your back is against a wall, so no one can “eavesdrop” over your shoulder.

AARP wants to help arm Americans with the tools they need to spot and avoid fraud and scams. We invite you to sign up for the Fraud Watch Network, a free resource to help you protect yourself and your family from identity theft and other scams.

Don’t wait until your dumb luck runs out.

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