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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection | article

When Getting Your Last-Minute Shopping Done, Be Wary About Free Public Wifi

Try as you might, its hard to prioritize getting gifts early in the holiday season so as not to be stuck amongst the masses of last-minute Christmas shoppers. If you don't get it out of the way early, your busy schedule may leave you scrambling to find presents just days before the big day. Often, to avoid getting stuck in line at the mall on Christmas Eve, you may resort to rush ordering an important present online.

Many online shoppers will do so from remote locations like a cafe on their lunch break from work or on a commuter train that offers free wireless Internet. This is a great convenience if you are too busy to shop any other way, but there are many hidden dangers to watch out for when using a public network.

The person sitting next to you on their laptop may actually be an identity thief
There could be dozens of people using the same wireless connection as you and there is no knowing what these people's motives are. If the network isn't secure, an identity thief who is either in the same restaurant, at the same park or in any location where you are using wifi may be able to use it to get your personal identification information (PII).

On public networks, you might be giving thieves an all-access pass to your hard drive
On most networks, you aren't just sharing an Internet connection, but you are allowing other computers using the router to access files on your computer. If you have any PII, such as your Social Security number or bank account numbers, saved on your hard drive, then a skilled identity thief would easily be able to find it. From there, this criminal can use that PII to open up new accounts in your name, potentially ruining your credit score.

Not all wireless networks are created equal
Make sure to only use secure wireless networks shielded by passwords at establishments you trust when doing your holiday shopping. If you are simply checking your wireless toolbar for the nearest free network, you may be falling into a trap that will put your information right in the hands of a criminal.