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Fraud Expert Offers Tips on Avoiding Public Wi-Fi Scams

People who use public Wi-Fi networks often put sensitive personal information at risk. (Pixabay)
People who use public Wi-Fi networks often put sensitive personal information at risk. (Pixabay)
August 8, 2016

DENVER – Using public wireless networks to check bank accounts, shop or even log into social media accounts could put sensitive personal information in jeopardy, according to a new AARP survey.

Frank Abagnale has been associated with the FBI for more than four decades. You may recall his story from the movie "Catch Me if You Can," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Abagnale says the risk for identity theft on unsecured Wi-Fi is real.

"So, if you're in a coffee shop or the airport, it's fine to play a game, it's fine go check the weather, it's fine to look up something up on the Internet,” he says. “But it is not the place make a credit card transaction, answer an email that's requesting your Social Security number or make a bank transaction."

Nearly half of all consumers log onto free public Wi-Fi at least once every few months, according to the study. One-third of those users shop with credit cards, and 37 percent said they've conducted banking.

AARP Colorado has joined a national campaign to spread the word about the potential hazards of public Wi-Fi and is encouraging businesses to download a safety tips poster at AARP.org/WatchYourWiFi.

Abagnale says in one common scam, a hacker positions himself between users and the Wi-Fi connection. Instead of talking directly with the hotspot, users end up sending information to the hacker.

Abagnale points to a recent incident where a victim tried to wire $175,000 from a personal bank account to a client.

"The client never received it, found out that it was intercepted, and of course, the bank is not liable because you were committing that transaction on public Wi-Fi, which is something you're not supposed to do," he relates.

Abagnale adds since most people are honest and don't think in a deceptive way, many fall prey to scams.

But he believes people will protect themselves if they know more about how hackers work.

"Unfortunately, if you make it easy for someone to steal from you, they probably will,” he says. “So, you don't want to make it easy. There's a lot of great information out there to protect yourself. Be proactive and you're less likely to be a victim."

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO