It seems that new stories regarding consumer data breaches explode in the media almost every week, from T-Mobile to Blue Cross Blue Shield and more. These security compromises leave many mobile users asking, “Is it safe to use my phone to make payments?”
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question. Any information saved to or transmitted by a cell phone can be taken in three ways: from the phone itself (i.e. theft of the device), at the point of sale (i.e. using Apple Pay at a retailer), or where the data is actually stored (i.e. in the cloud on the company server of a particular app). The safety of using a phone to make payments naturally will depend on the measures taken across all three dimensions.
Related Reading: Is mobile banking safe
Given that mobile payments are likely to continue trending upward, what can the average smartphone user do to ensure that their payments are secure?1. Use a credit card, not a debit card. If you choose to enter card information, avoid using debit cards: a hacker could easily have your checking account drained before you even realize there’s a problem. Resolving identity theft issues is no walk in the park, but it’s a much easier process when it involves a credit card, and much less likely to leave you broke!
2. Lock down your phone. Most mobile manufacturers and service providers have detailed instructions for maximizing your phone’s security features, from password protection to remote disabling the device in the case of theft. Don’t forget to update your browser as well, to make sure you have the most recent protections offered.
3. Make the same smart choices you’d use on a laptop. You would be surprised at how many people would never click on a “phishing” link in an email accessed on a computer but are tricked into opening a link or downloading a file using a smartphone!
Related Reading: 5 tips to protect your mobile credit card data
4. Read the fine print. Before you download an app or enter your credit card information into one that you’ve already put on your phone, take a close look at the terms of service. Did you know that some apps’ TOS give them the right to sell your information to third parties, or even to access the pictures you save on your phone and resell them? Probably not. If reading the fine print is too tedious for you, try looking at the app’s reviews. If it’s a newer app, you may want to avoid it until it has been proven trustworthy by other users.
5. Pay attention to your accounts. Whether you choose to set up automated alerts from your credit card company or keep an eagle eye on your billing statements (or both!), it’s up to you to monitor your accounts. Most credit cards employ fraud detection measures (e.g. blocking transactions that seem to be outside of your usual spending patterns) and will alert you to any suspicious activity, but it’s not impossible for smaller transactions to fall through the cracks.
Related Reading: Credit v. Debit cards: Which is safer for online shopping?
While there’s no single way to guarantee that hackers won’t access your information, you can take steps to increase the likelihood of keeping your data secure, and of having a fast resolution in the event of a breach.
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