(MoneyWatch) If you are among the millions of consumers who have embraced mobile banking, you could be putting your financial life at risk. Many consumers make careless errors with their phones that open the door to having con artists steal from their bank accounts, says Adam Levin, co-founder of Credit.com and IdentityTheft911.
"Cell phones have a way of falling out of your pocket in a cab or getting left at a bar. You have to take steps to protect the information stored in it," he says. "Think of the bits of data on your phone like the components to a nuclear weapon. One may not be dangerous, but put them together and you have a disaster."
The convenience of mobile banking is fueling fast-paced growth in the industry, adds Jeff Gerhart, chairman of the Independent Community Bankers Association. But mobile banking cons are growing too, with phishing scams hitting cell phones with increasing frequency.
What must you do to protect your bank account, when you use mobile banking?
1. Password protect your phone, so it requires a code to come out of sleep mode.
2. Make sure your password isn't easily guessable, like "password" or "open sesame" or "123" or "letmein."
3. Don't use universal passwords that would let anyone who figured out your email or Facebook password to also get access to your financial accounts.
4. Never set your phone to automatically log-on to your bank account.
5. Invest in antivirus software, so malware can't be loaded to your smart phone when you're searching the web.
6. Never provide personal identification or banking information over your phone, unless you have initiated the contact yourself.
7. Do not respond to emails or messages that request that you "log in" to your account or provide banking information. These are phishing expeditions. If you're gullible, you're likely to be hacked.
8. Never share your password, pin or the answers to secret questions with anyone other than your banker -- who you called. If the banker calls you, hang up and call back using the bank's number from the web -- not the number they provided over the phone.
9. Be careful with the kind of information you share on Facebook, adds Levin. Popular "quizzes" and Facebook profiles often include the same information that your bank asks for to answer "secret questions" that serve as a skeleton key to your account. Your close friends may know your mother's maiden name, your favorite colors and songs. The rest of your Facebook acquaintances shouldn't.