The AARP wants to remind you that public Wi-Fi networks — ubiquitous as they may be — aren’t safe.
The Washington branch of the senior citizens advocacy group, along with the state Attorney General’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, and Microsoft, is set to launch a campaign to advertise the ways technology users can set themselves up for identity theft or other personal damage online.
An AARP survey of Washington residents found that 25 percent of adults say they connect a smartphone or other device to public Wi-Fi networks at least once a week. Of that group, 25 percent reports doing personal banking while connected to networks. Nearly half of survey respondents failed to pass a quiz asking about best practices for things like passwords, smartphones and wireless encryption.
That’s a problem, says Doug Shadel, director of the Washington AARP and a consumer fraud researcher. “You’re minding your own business, checking your email on free public Wi-Fi in a coffee shop,” Shadel said. “Is it possible for someone to watch what you’re doing? Yes, it is. I don’t think everybody realizes how easy it is to intercept that information.”
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The push begins Tuesday morning with an event at the Museum of Flight with demonstrations of how easily thieves can access unencrypted information, with presentations planned in Spokane, Kennewick, and Yakima in the coming months.
“Last year we interviewed a local identity thief who opened my eyes to how much of this is really going on,” Shadel said. “No card-carrying con artist can really ply his trade now without using technology.”