There can be a high price to pay for the ease of so-called free Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee shop, or hotel lobby.

Young or old, Internet scammers don’t discriminate, and nearly half of respondents in a new survey failed a quiz about online and wireless safety.

The report is from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

Sophia McAllister, a volunteer in Ohio with the AARP Fraud Watch Network, says hackers can easily steal personal information on a public Wi-Fi network and wreak havoc on your life.

“It can take years, it can take lots of money, it can be agonizing when you are saddled with debt that someone else has incurred with your name, your Social Security number,” she stresses.

One out of four adults who took the survey say they use free Wi-Fi once a week.

McAllister warns that con artists often set up fake networks in public places. She recommends never using public Wi-Fi, especially for banking or shopping because that’s where hackers are lurking.

Folks using dating websites also need to be careful, cautions McAllister.

“If someone starts immediately asking for more personal information, an email address, or a phone number, if someone starts professing love almost immediately,” she points out. “There are many actions that people need to be wary of. “

Only 2-out-of-10 people surveyed were aware of the most up-to-date security for their home Wi-Fi network.

McAllister says WPA2 wireless encryption is best and also suggests ensuring all passwords are strong.

“Make sure your network is protected. Change your passwords frequently,” she stresses. “It’s recommended that every 90 days you change all your passwords. The other thing is don’t use the same password for all of your accounts. “

Tempting as it is, and, even if the password contains a complex mix of letters, numbers and symbols, it’s no safer, says McAllister.

AARP’s new Watch Your Wi-Fi campaign is talking to Ohioans about ways to protect themselves online, and is hosting free forums on cyber security around the state in September.

It may be free but public Wi-Fi can come with a price. may be free but public Wi-Fi can come with a price.

By Mary Kuhlman

Ohio News Connection