Is Public WI-FI Safe?

The following information was sent via email from AARP and answers quite a few questions that my clients have had. Many people don’t realize that connecting to a free wi-fi spot at Starbucks or McDonalds carries quite a bit of risk for the uninformed.

Is Public Wi-Fi Safe?

Free public Wi-Fi, available at places like airports and coffee shops, is convenient, but can be risky.

How It Works:

Scammers monitor commonly used Wi-Fi network names, and set up their own “evil twin” access points in hopes your computer or device will automatically connect to it without your consent. Or they launch a “man in the middle” attack, by hacking in between you and your Wi-Fi connection. Their goal? To grab your personal information, emails, credit card numbers, and passwords.

What You Should Know:

Any data you send over free public Wi-Fi is vulnerable, so be diligent about how you use it.

What You Should Do:

  • Even if it seems obvious, ask an employee at the location offering free public Wi-Fi for the name of the network. Just because you are at the airport, don’t just assume that “free airport Wi-Fi” is a legitimate wireless network; it could have been set up by a hacker to trick you into connecting.
  • Avoid online banking, checking emails, making credit card purchases or even posting on social media on public Wi-Fi.
  • Check your device’s settings to make sure it doesn’t automatically connect to any free public Wi-Fi that you’re in range of.
  • Stick to browsing the web, checking news, weather, or traffic when on public Wi-Fi. When possible, avoid sites that require you to share login information such as a user name and password.
  • If you find you use public Wi-Fi regularly, play it safe and sign up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that keeps your data secure by routing your communications through a secure, third-party server. Some are free, while others charge a subscription.

When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. Please share this alert with friends and family.
Kathy Stokes
Fraud Watch Network
P.S. Spotted a scam? Tell us about it. Our scam-tracking map gives you information about the latest scams targeting people in your state. You’ll also find first-hand accounts from scam-spotters who are sharing their experiences so you know how to protect yourself and your family.

AARP Fraud Action Network