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Watch Out for Free Wi-Fi

You’re at the mall, an airport, a hotel, or the local coffee shop with your smartphone or tablet in hand. You’ve been itching to check your email, browse the Web, or catch up with your friends on Facebook. You check and, sure enough, the venue offers free Wi-Fi. So should you connect to it?

Increasingly, data security experts say, “No.” Sure, Wi-Fi connections are convenient. And they help keep you from using up your plan’s monthly allotment of data usage, thereby avoiding costly overage fees. But connect, and you may become a victim of fraud that could cost you even more dearly.

It’s important to remember that public Wi-Fi is just that: public. These days, even not-so-sophisticated criminals can spy on these public networks—or even set up bogus links of their own to get you to connect—in an effort to intercept your data. Unfortunately, that data can include your Online Banking login information, online shopping site passwords or credit card numbers, and other personal information.

What should you do to protect yourself? Here are a few tips.

Check your settings

Make sure your device’s settings aren’t set to connect automatically to public Wi-Fi. Instead, your device should require you to connect manually.

Make sure you’re on the right network.

Criminals can set up bogus links, with connection names similar to the venue offering the free Wi-Fi. If you’re going to connect, confirm the connection’s name and IP address with a knowledgeable employee at that location to avoid being duped.

Avoid logins, if possible.

Browsing the Web is one thing. But don’t use public Wi-Fi to visit sites that require you to enter user names and passwords, including Online Banking and social networking sites. The same goes for online shopping, where you’d be entering your credit or debit card number or logging into a site where that information is stored. Although some are encrypted, some are not, and encryption kicks in at different stages on different sites. Reserve that type of activity for your secure, password-protected Wi-Fi at home.

Use your cellular network instead.

If you do need to log into sites that store or require you to input sensitive information, use your cellular connection via 3G or 4G instead. It’s safer.

Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

A VPN creates a secure connection even when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi. Using a method referred to as “tunneling,” the VPN essentially creates a private pathway or “tunnel” through which your encrypted data passes. This helps prevent others from gaining access to your information.

Protect your device.

Make sure all of your devices are protected by antimalware and other mobile security software, and that the software is updated as often as needed.

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