Mobile Banking: 4 Ways to Secure Your Smartphone

Last Updated May 16, 2011 3:43 PM EDT

This story is part 2 of a package on mobile banking.
I'm beginning to wonder if it's time to start using my smartphone to do my banking. After all, I love online banking, so shouldn't mobile banking be even more convenient and satisfying? There's just one thing stopping me: I'm questioning if it's safe. And if it is, whether there are any additional steps I should take to protect my personal information and accounts.

I decided to check in with two identity theft experts, Philip Blank, a senior analyst with Javelin Strategy and Research , and John Sileo, the author of The Smartphone Survival Guide. Both agreed that mobile banking isn't as secure yet as online banking. (It's just so new.) But if someone is set on using their cell phone to pay a bill, there are some steps you can take to increase your security. Here are the four things you should do to protect your personal information while banking with your smartphone:

Your Mobile Security Checklist
1. Treat Your Phone Like Your Computer
By now, most of us know the drill. If we bank online, we need to secure our computers against hackers and viruses. We also shouldn't save our passwords on our laptops or desktops. It turns out we need to take the same precautions with our smartphones, says The Smartphone Survival Guide's Sileo. Unfortunately, most of us don't.

How do you secure your smartphone? The first thing you should do is set up a password for your device. You can do this by going to your phone's settings. On an iPhone, for example, look for the passcode setting. On an Android, it called Locations & Security.

Sileo also recommends getting security software. If you have a BlackBerry, Android, or Windows Mobile phone, you can download Lookout for free, which says it protect against viruses, hackers, loss, and theft.

2. Utilize Remote Access
One of the biggest risks with mobile banking is that it's just so easy to lose your phone. Think about it, how many times have you left yours in a restaurant or a movie theater? That's why it's critical that you have a way to track down your smartphone and wipe out its memory remotely.

Lookout will do this for BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Android. If you have an iPhone, you can get this protection through MobileMe, which costs $99 a year.

3. Bank Carefully
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but make sure you only bank with a well known financial institution. Just as importantly, don't access your accounts through a regular web browser, says Javelin Strategy's Blank. Instead, take the extra step and download the bank's mobile app since it's a safer banking environment, he says.

4. Download Apps at Your Own Risk
Finally, one of the easiest ways a thief can access your personal information is by getting you to download a free app. What many of us don't realize is that thieves are using applications to infect our phones with malware. How prevalent is this problem? Back in March, mobile security site Android Police reported that more than 50 apps available at Android Market were found to contain malware. After looking into the matter, Google took 21 apps off its marketplace site.

Part of the fun of having a smartphone is downloading all sorts of cool apps. Fortunately, you don't have to completely abandon this practice. Just do it carefully. Make sure the app is either well known (has it been reviewed by the popular press?) or has been out for at least six months. Otherwise, that free game could cost you a whole lot more in lost savings and identity.

The good news is that if you have an iPhone, the apps on iTunes tend to be at least partially vetted by Apple. But that's still not a guarantee that everything you see is safe, so you should still do some research before you download anything.

Do you take any of these precautions before you do your mobile banking?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Smartphone Evolution image courtesy of Flickr, cc 2.0.
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