senior phoneAARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) is warning Internet users about using public WiFi networks. The AARP FraudWatch Network has launched a ¨Watch Your Wi-Fi¨ campaign in which it warns of public WiFi risks as well as ways people can protect themselves.

Nearly half of U.S. consumers log on to free public WiFi networks at least once every few months, according to the results of a recent AARP FraudWatch Network survey.

Cybercrime cost Americans an estimated $800 million last year, according to AARP FraudWatch’s ¨Watch My Wi-Fi¨ campaign.

Public WiFi Risks
More than one-third of survey respondents said they had used their credit cards to buy goods or services online. Furthermore, 37 percent said they had engaged in online banking via free public WiFi networks and 70 percent said they had used them to access email and social media accounts. In addition:

  • Seventy percent of public Wi-Fi users say they don’t recall the public location providing any information about how to protect yourself from cyber scams;
  • Seventy percent of users think locations offering free public Wi-Fi should display information on the risks associated with using public Wi-Fi to shop, bank, or access social media sites;
  • Two-thirds of users would be more favorable toward a coffee shop, bookstore, hotel, or other public location that offered free public Wi-Fi if they provided users with information on how to protect themselves from cyber scams.

AARP highlights four things users should never do when connecting to free public WiFi networks on a tip sheet available on the ¨Watch My Wi-Fi¨ website:

  • Don’t access email, online bank or credit card accounts;
  • Watch out for fake WiFi networks at coffee shops, hotels or other high-traffic locations;
  • Disable mobile devices’ automatic network connections; and
  • Don’t connect to an unknown public network if doing so requires providing sensitive information.

AARP FraudWatch is asking businesses that offer free public WiFi service to participate in the public awareness campaign. It’s also assisting coffee shops, retail stores and other businesses with avoiding cyberscams carried out on their free public WiFi networks.

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