In one of the most alarming examples of “it’ll never happen to me,” a new study has found that too many consumers display a sense of invincibility when it comes to public Wi-Fi connections.

Whether it’s logging into their bank accounts or credit card accounts, posting on social media, checking their email, or more, public Wi-Fi users are putting their identities on the line…literally.

The 2017 Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report found some truly troubling results based on a survey of more than 15,000 tech users. For example:

– 92% of Americans have put their personal information over public Wi-Fi connections, including logging into their bank accounts

– 69% of Americans believe their PII is safe over public Wi-Fi, but two-thirds of respondents reported they engage in unsafe internet use over public connections

– 73% of American tech users are not using a virtual private network (VPN) when they connect in public

– 60% of US 18- to 20-year-olds say it’s “important” to use public Wi-Fi in order to post on social media

There were a few other reasons for using public Wi-Fi connections, such as avoiding the use of their cellular data, reported by 70% of of the Gen Z (18-20) respondents. Another 51% said they need it in order to use their GPS features; unfortunately, they’re unknowingly sharing their physical locations with whomever happens to be monitoring that Wi-Fi connection. For senior citizens, 59% of respondents over the age of 72 said they primarily need to connect in public in order to be reached by loved ones.

It’s important to understand that the free connections offered by coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and many other locations aren’t inherently bad or dangerous. They’re a great way to bring in customers by providing extra value, and they really do offer a handy service. What can be harmful, though, is the activity users conduct over these free connections. Without any system of password protection or an ability to see who else can be peeking in, consumers need to limit their public activity to less risky activity or install a VPN to provide a layer of security.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.