Free Wi-Fi dangerous for smart phone shoppers


Free Wi-Fi hot spots are the life blood for many smart phone users.

"My student account, work, anything, anything I need access to," Grizzy Castillo said. "It's going off right now."

Castillo is among a growing number of people who see no problems with free Wi-Fi. According to the software security site, 73 percent of Americans are just fine with using free Wi-Fi and 54 percent plan to use smart phones for holiday shopping.

But free can come with a huge cost if the network you are using is not secure.

"It could lead to having your bank accounts compromised. Identity theft and that sort of thing certainly is a possibility," Jay Lee said.

Lee is the host of the local radio program Technology Bytes.

Lee says your credit card number and password information could be stored by those hosting free Wi-Fi spots or worse, by someone who has set up a free Wi-Fi hotspot for the purpose of collecting private data.

So how do you stay safe while using a smart phone and free Wi-Fi?

First if you are in a business, verify the name of the Wi-Fi connection.

"Just because it says Starbucks, it does not mean it is the Wi-Fi that is being provided by Starbucks," Lee said. "Double check to be sure you are using the corporate provided free Wi-Fi."

Lee also recommends using Wi-Fi connections that require passwords to gain access. He says it's a good indicator the site is secure.

It turns out Houstonians really need to know this because Houston is the number one city in the nation for mobile shopping, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

"You run a higher risk being in a larger city," Lee said.

Houston police put together a list of the top 10 things to avoid when shopping online. Fake Wi-Fi hot spots were number two on that list.

Number one: online deals that are too good to be true, like iPads for $100. That is a big red flag online and in the real world, too.

See HPD's Top 10 Holiday Internet Scams for 2012 here.

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