Many consumers take advantage of mobile banking apps to check their balances, deposit checks, pay bills and, most of all, avoid trips to their local bank branches or ATMs.
But as mobile banking apps become more prevalent, so do the opportunities for cyberthieves to grab your personal and financial information. You'll have to do everything you can to prevent bad guys from gaining access to your data and stealing your money and your identity.
Here are eight tips to help you avoid financial theft and identity theft as you bank via your mobile device.
1. Update your device's mobile operating system. Be sure you're running the latest version of the operating system, because it's likely that older versions are insecure.
"The new versions include some type of a patch, like a critical security update," said Robert Siciliano, identity-theft expert and spokesman for BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com.
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2. Install the latest version of your bank's mobile app. Your device will generally prompt you if the application is out of date, and the official app store will usually have the latest version.
"The older apps are updated due to upgrades, functionality issues or security issues," Siciliano said. "For example, if you're using an iPhone and you have a Bank of America app, the iPhone will let you know in your settings that your Bank of America app is out of date, and it will direct you to the iTunes store to update that app."
3. Protect your device. If you let your children, or anyone else, use your device, be sure they're careful about where they go on the Internet, said Shirley Inscoe, a senior analyst with Boston-based financial-analysis firm Aite Group.
"It's very easy, in downloading some apps, to download malware [without being aware of it]," Inscoe said. "The best bet is to go through your app store, where these apps have been tested and should be safe."
4. Create strong passwords for the mobile banking app. Use both lowercase and uppercase letters, as well as numbers.
"And don't use the same password for all your apps," Siciliano said.
Inscoe agreed that it's critical to use unique log-in credentials for each banking app, and that none of the credentials should match those for other applications.
"People tend to use the same log-in information for a number of sites," she said. "But your banking app needs a little extra protection. So if, indeed, your email is taken over, or some merchant site is compromised through a data breach, you don't want those criminals to get your sign-in credentials for your online banking account."
5. Take precautions with free Wi-Fi. Whenever you use free public Wi-Fi in a hotel, an Internet cafe or an airport, be sure you have a VPN (virtual private network) installed. The VPN will encrypt your wireless communications over those unsecured wireless networks, Siciliano said.
6. Ensure that your device is password-protected. If your device is lost or stolen, no one can get access to your online banking information if you have a password, Siciliano said.
7. Be careful with SMS text messaging.
"There are a lot of spam messages that are being sent out, like offering you a cruise to the Bahamas or to the Caribbean or $100 gift cards to Wal-Mart or Best Buy," Inscoe said. "People who click on those links are downloading malware onto their phones that can access their personal banking information, and they don't even realize it."
8. Use your bank's mobile app. Inscoe recommended that you use your bank's app rather than signing in through a mobile Web browser, because the bank's app is more secure.
"Be sure you sign off the mobile banking app before you hand your phone to anyone, or even lay it down," she added.
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