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Shady Signals: Wireless Computing and Online Safety Among Internet Users Age 18 and Older

This survey of 800 Washington residents indicates a need for greater public awareness about the risks of using public WiFi and how people can better protect themselves from identity theft. 

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Many Washington internet users lack important cybersecurity knowledge. When asked seven questions related to cybersecurity, nearly half (46%) ‘failed’ the quiz, answering four or fewer questions correctly.While some Washington internet users are aware of the risks of using the Internet and free WiFi, many are engaging in behaviors that could put them in harm’s way with con artists.

Key findings include:

  • Data from this survey shows that well over half (61%) of Washington adult internet users do not have online access to all of their bank accounts; and nearly three-quarters (71%) say they do not have online access to all of their credit card accounts.
  • About a quarter of internet users who report using free public WiFi, say they used free public WiFi to do their banking (25%) or purchase a product with a credit card (22%) in the three months prior to taking this survey.
  • Among those who access the internet with a smart phone, one in four (25%) say they do not have a passcode on that phone, and over one-third (35%) of those ages 50 and older say they do not have a passcode on their phone.

In addition to behaviors that increase vulnerability to identity or financial fraud online or through various technological devices, there are ‘low tech’ behaviors that can also expose someone to cyber criminal attacks:

  • Credit card statements, utility bills, health care information can be linked to financial or other important personal accounts.  Interestingly, over four in ten (43%) respondents say they receive mail in an unlocked mailbox.
  • Shredding paper documents or credit cards can help prevent cyber criminals from finding personal identification information. Yet, a third (33%) of respondents say they only shred personal documents once a year or less, with one in seven (14%) who say they never shred.
  • Almost seven in ten (66%) respondents say they have at least one of the following six items in their car:  a purse/wallet, checkbook, personal mail, cell phone, GPS unit, or laptop computer in their cars during the past three months.

ANR completed a total of 800 interviews (638 by landline and 162 by cell phone). Respondents were screened for being aged 18 or older and accessing the internet at least a couple of times per month. Both landline (RDD) and cell phone sample were used for this research. A total of 10,800 records were dialed. Interviews took place April 2 through April 11, 2015. For more information, contact Jennifer Sauer at


Suggested Citation:

Sauer, Jennifer. Shady Signals: Wireless Computing and Online Safety Among Internet Users Age 18 and Older. Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2015.

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