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PHOTO: A new survey of Internet users shows the convenience of public wireless networks may come at a high cost. Nearly half failed a quiz about Wi-Fi safety, while tens of thousands admit to online activities that could put their personal information at risk. Photo credit: Joel Runyon/WikiMedia Commons.

By Eric Galatas, Public News Service

August 9, 2015 (San Diego’s East County)-- Californians often are putting convenience ahead of safety when they use free public wireless networks, according to a new AARP report that found that a quarter of adult Internet users access public Wi-Fi at least once a week and are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

"Recently, AARP conducted a survey of people's online safety and security," said Amy Nofziger, director of AARP's Fraud Watch Network. "and found out that tens of thousands admit to engaging in activity that could put them squarely in the sites of hackers looking to steal their personal information."

Nofziger listed four things you should never do on public wireless networks:

* Don't access your email, credit card or bank accounts.

* Make sure the network is authentic, not a fake using a name similar to that of the coffee shop or hotel.

* Check your settings; don't let your device connect automatically to Wi-Fi.

* If you must go online to shop, use your cellular signal, which is more secure than Wi-Fi.

Nofziger said the FBI estimates that more than $800 million was lost through cyber crime in 2014. In response, AARP has launched the "Watch Your Wi-Fi" campaign, which provides security tips and details scams frequently used by hackers.

Despite the risks, Nofziger acknowledged, the Internet can be a lifeline.

"But we just want to be safe," she said. "So, use the free public Wi-Fi to surf your favorite sports sites, check the news, check the weather. But do not put any personal or private information into your mobile device or tablet when you're on a free public Wi-Fi."

For more information on how to safely connect on public wireless networks, AARP has a page on its website: The AARP survey is at