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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > November 2015 > When to Use or Refuse Free, Public Wi-Fi

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When to Use or Refuse Free, Public Wi-Fi

Free, public Wi-Fi can be an easy way to connect online while on the go. However, it’s important for users to understand how their personal information, such as credit card numbers and account passwords, could be compromised while connected.
Follow these cybersecurity tips to protect against hackers and malware and determine when to use or avoid public Wi-Fi:
  • Know the network. Before connecting, evaluate the legitimacy of the network. Know that scammers often create unsecured networks with similar-sounding names of legitimate networks. Once the user connects to the fake network, the scammer can potentially access any personal information stored on the user’s device. For example, if you are trying to connect to a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, first verify the shop’s network name and password with the clerk.
  • Never disclose personal information. Generally, it is safe to use free, public Wi-Fi for catching up on the news or getting an updated sports score. However, never log on to websites requiring a username and password; never conduct online banking or pay bills; and never submit credit card information while connected to free, public Wi-Fi. When using public networks, pretend someone is looking over your shoulder and watching everything you’re doing. 
  • Review your settings. Never opt to have devices automatically reconnect to an unsecured network. While this sounds like a convenient feature, a scammer could create a Wi-Fi network so that your device connects automatically to the scammer’s network. This could allow the scammer access to personal information stored on your device. If you see a duplicative Wi-Fi network, alert the establishment’s staff immediately. 
  • Use secure websites. Websites beginning with “https,” rather than “http” in the web address are your clue that they are secure. Some websites will also display a padlock symbol, indicating that the information you are submitting is encrypted. It is especially important to use secure websites when entering personal information, such as credit card numbers or passwords. Encryption scrambles the numbers and letters and makes it more difficult for scammers to read the information.
  • When in doubt, do not connect. Most tasks can wait until you have access to a secure home network. Also, know that it is possible for computer viruses to spread through a Wi-Fi network, so even if your computer is clean there could still be a threat from other users’ devices. It is better to pass up the opportunity for a few minutes of free Wi-Fi rather than risk disclosing personal information to a potential hacker.
In October, Attorney General DeWine announced a new cybersecurity awareness campaign to help Ohioans protect their personal information and stay safe online. The grant-funded program includes cybersecurity messages that will be posted in public transit systems in several Ohio cities and will be available to libraries and schools.
Additionally, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office offers free presentations as part of its CHIPP (Cybersecurity Help, Information, and Protection Program) initiative. CHIPP presentations are customized according to the age of the audience, with junior high, high school, and adult versions available.
To schedule a CHIPP presentation or to report a scam or unfair business practice, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by visiting or call 800-282-0515.