Tech Q&A: Safe online banking, phone police scanners, slow Internet and more

File photo. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

 (File photo. (REUTERS/Mike Segar))

Make  banking  safe online

Q. I like to do work using the free Wi-Fi at a local coffee shop. Can anyone there get my bank account number and password?

A. Yes, public Wi-Fi leaves your data out in the open. Anyone from a casual snoop to a nefarious hacker can easily see every single thing you do online. Banking sites are generally safer than most because they have strong encryption on the connection. But that’s no guarantee your personal information is not free for the taking. Fortunately, you can add a layer of strong encryption using a virtual private network. Not only is it good for security, a VPN hides your Internet travels from your ISP and web sites. Using a VPN sounds complicated but it’s really not. Learn more about using VPNs here on my site.

Don’t give up

Q. Help, Kim! I'm so overwhelmed with all the viruses, data breaches, scammers and hacks out there. Is it even worth trying to keep my computer safe?

A. Make sure your basic security is in order and that will take care of tons of background threats, which lets you concentrate on new serious ones when they arise. The first step is making sure your computer is secure with strong security software, setting up your computer with the right account type and turning on automatic software updates. Get more details on securing your computer and learn two more steps that can keep you safe. Then read the Bonus Q&A below to learn the signs that you have a computer virus.

Free police scanner on your phone

Q. A long time ago, I had a police scanner. It liked the constant updates. Before I spend money on a new one, are there any new high-tech angles I should know?

A. Instead of buying a standalone unit, you can listen to police and emergency radio on your smartphone or tablet. Apple has the popular free 5-0 app and Android has Scanner Radio Deluxe. These apps let you listen to emergency radio broadcasts in your hometown or around the world. They also include railroad, marine and ham radio broadcasts.

Find the cause of slow Internet

Q. My Internet has slowed way down and I don't know what's causing it. Could it be my Internet provider?

A. There are many reasons your Internet could be slow. Your ISP might be having technical problems, maybe a neighbor is stealing your bandwidth, your Internet modem might be old, your router could be on the fritz or even something else. To track down the cause, first run a test so you know how your speed compares to what you are paying for. Click here for a free test and how to interpret results.

Buy these items online to save

Q. In the past, everything I bought online was cheaper than it was in the store, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Is anything still cheaper online, or are those days gone?

A. Brick-and-mortar stores have worked hard to make their prices competitive with online retailers, but there are still a few things you can get cheaper online. Electronics like smartphones, laptops and game consoles are often available for less online. You just need to poke around a site like Google Shopping to find deals. Pet suppliers are moving their operations online, so pet supplies are often available for less, too. Get the full scoop on where to find the best online deals for these types of products and more.

Bonus: Signs of a computer virus

Q. My computer is freezing and crashing a lot lately. Could it be a virus?

A. It might, but it's more likely a hardware or software problem. Many modern viruses either make a big obvious splash to scare you into paying a "ransom" to get rid of them, or they give no sign so they can steal your passwords and banking information without you knowing. Viruses between these two extremes do things in their own self-interest, like showing pop-up ads or redirecting your Internet browsing to malicious sites. Learn more details about the signs of a possible virus, and what action you should take if you have one.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.