Mobile banking: How to be safe

Precautions can minimize mobile banking risks


SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Forrestine Knowles has never been to her bank.  Instead, she whips out her tablet or smart phone and logs on to her bank's app.

"I use it for everything," she said. "It sends me text messages to tell me my account balance and how much I spent in certain categories for my budget."

By the end of this year, an estimated 43 percent of bank customers will be using mobile devices to bank on the go.

Marilyn Gallindo likes the convenience of banking by iPhone app.

"I like checking my balance so I don't spend too much money," she said.

Many banks now offer mobile apps as a way to check balances, transfer funds, pay bills and even deposit checks.

"The thing to do is always be a skeptic and always be thinking, 'How am I connecting to the network to begin with?'" said Larry Thompson, associate director at the University of Texas at San Antonio Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security.

Bank apps are the most direct link between the device and the bank.

However, before downloading a bank app, the customer should make sure it's the real deal and not a fake. Check to be sure the developer of the app is the one your bank says it is.

"Make sure you know how you area connected to the Internet," Thompson said. "One way you can be connected and be relatively secure to to be connected through the carrier's actual network."

That means using your carrier's cellular data plan.

"That connection is encrypted, and it's much more difficult to be able to intrude upon and sniff the traffic and get information on it," Thompson said.

While public wi-ii is convenient, Thompson called it the worst option for mobile banking.

"If I'm in the coffee shop (or any location with public wi-fi) I could set up my own network to look like the coffee shop's network," he said. "So now here you are, you are connecting to a network I set up in the coffee shop that has a nice strong signal and you're very happy. But, everything that goes back and forth, it's like me standing in the middle of you and your bank and everything you want to tell your bank, I get to find out about first."

When connecting to any wireless network, Thompson said to be deliberate and choose one you know is secure. Do not, he said set up your phone or tablet to automatically connect to the strongest signal.

Perhaps the biggest threat to a mobile banker's security is with the phone or tablet itself.

Consumers should keep a password screen lock on it, have a remote wipe program so you can delete data if the phone is lost or stolen, and protect the device just like you would your wallet or credit card.