The commercials make it look so easy and convenient to transfer money, pay bills or get in some shopping when you find a few free moments on a busy day with mobile payments. Certainly, smart phones and tablets are great for stranded travelers needing to find different transportation or hotels.
What the commercials don’t show, however, is how badly you can get ripped off if you aren’t careful about the applications you download or if you don’t spend the necessary time and money for security.
The use of “smart phones” and “tablets” for mobile payments grew dramatically in 2011, with projections of over 62 million smart mobile devices in use by the end of 2011.
Analysts project that by 2014, there will be a $633 billion mobile payments market with 490 million users worldwide.* If you’re one of the growing numbers of people using mobile payments or doing mobile banking, make sure you do so wisely.
(Note: the author of this post’s background includes working for network and internet security specialists, as well as experience in online financial services for one of the nation’s largest banks.)
If you’ve ever had your satellite radio or cell phone call been stepped on (your call was cut off by another call or you heard bits and pieces of somebody’s conversation or choice of radio stations), be aware that thieves use the same principles to steal your personal financial information, and potentially, your identity.
It’s up to you to make it as difficult as possible to do so.
Just as safe shopping from the convenience of your home PC or laptop starts with your online habits, so does safe mobile shopping. In fact, mobile devices actually require more diligence and often the same security systems that are readily available for desktops and laptops can be more difficult to incorporate into your mobile device.
Here are some things to be careful about when shopping with a smart phone, tablet, or your laptop via Wi-Fi, especially in crowded or public areas.
Top Rules for Using Smart Phones Wisely
Don’t Rely on Your Service Provider for Security, It’s Not their Job. And, They Aren’t Liable If You Get Ripped Off. Buy the device and plan that meets your needs, but get security from a security professional. Does the seller or carrier care who sees your emails, address book, photos, bank information or calendar with personal appointments? No, they care that you buy a product and pay your bills on time. Period.
Purchase, install and regularly update security software for your mobile device. Norton, for example has a “new Anti-Theft” package specifically designed for laptops and mobile devices. Most security websites help you choose the product(s) that best meet your online surfing, shopping and banking habits.
When it comes to security, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish: it’s better to “overbuy” security than take unnecessary risks. Our recommendation: Norton is well worth the money.
Make sure your mobile device and all applications can’t be accessed without a password. It’s a good idea to make sure that different passwords are used. You should be even more diligent about not “saving” usernames and passwords on your mobile device than your home PC or Mac. Never and that is NEVER, store passwords or usernames in emails.
ALWAYS log-off of all applications as soon as you are done using them, particularly those involving mobile payments or any personal or financial information. Misplace your phone, and anyone can go on a quite spending spree if you aren’t careful and you may or may not be able to get your money back. (Your photos, emails and voice mails are a whole other ballgame.)
ALWAYS run a security scan on any mobile or FaceBook application as part of the download and installation process. Security should be a key factor whenever you buy or download any application to your mobile device or your large computer.
Read the fine print on a full-size computer or large tablet than a smart phone before you buy an app or use it to make a mobile payment. There is, after all, a reason why it’s called fine print. The stuff that’s hard to read stuff can really hurt you if something goes wrong.
Be extra careful with screensavers, joke or any fun app, especially those that are free or come from unknown sources. It’s easy to unknowingly bring malware (viruses, spyware, or Trojan Horses) into your PC, Mac, or mobile device. A game, song or even a joke sent to you by a friend can contain things that can put seriously damage the safety of your financial and personal information.
Convenient Yes, but Harder than it Looks on TV
Anyone who says it is as easy to make a purchase online using a mobile device as a it is a laptop is probably fibbing, especially the commercials. If you look closely at the end of the ads, there’s usually a small banner across the bottom of the screen that notes mobile payment was “not in real-time.” This means it took much longer than a standard 15 or 30 second commercial to complete the transaction.
Can you do complete a purchase in 30 seconds? Sure, but you should do so only with sites that you regularly do business with. And, always make sure that your security software is working and has the most current updates.
This article offers general advice about using smart phones and tablets wisely. Specific questions should be asked of your service carrier, application developer and/or your mobile security software or service provider.
Make sure you can clearly read all information about the product, return policies, warranties, price and shipping information. You don’t want to find out that the “estimated shipping price” is low- and get hit with an additional charge later on. Or, that that you can’t return the product if it isn’t what you thought it would be.
Make sure you know who ultimately will get your money, even if the store is on Amazon or eBay. Amazon is Amazon, the sellers are individual entities and a crooked retailer can do a tons damage before the complaints begin. Don’t buy if you don’t know the name of the STORE or INDIVIDUAL you are doing business with.
Ask yourself: who do I call if I’m unhappy with the product or have a question about a charge on your monthly statement? (One reason we no longer do business with Amazon is that they make it very, very difficult to personally contact customers and vice versa.
We don’t like going through a third party and urge you to think carefully before doing so. Even, and may be especially if the deal seems too good to pass up or too good to be true.
If a payment’s gone that you didn’t authorize, you’ll likely find your own bank or your credit card company more helpful than Amazon, PayPal, etc. When you say you didn’t make a purchase or you’re unsatisfied with the product or service, your banking/credit card habits and relationships may determine the level of satisfaction and protection you get.
Look for and click-on any online certificates, whether they are for a payment processor (e.g. Authorize.net or LinkPoint/Global Gateway) or security (e.g. Verisign or Trustwave.) Legitimate seals usually have a pop-up with detailed information about the website. If you click on a seal and nothing happens, it could be a coding error. It also could be a useless icon copied from another site.
Visa, Discover, Master Card or American Express logos tell you what cards the merchant accepts; a payment processor seal tells you how your payments are processed. If you see a processor seal, you may not see an SSL certificate as many sites don’t broadcast their security measures.
You can bet, however, that a payment card processor handling millions of transactions per day has quality security protocols that screen and protect your information each and every payment. (Unlike PayPal, payment card processors make online stores undergo rigorous screening before processing payments.)
Customer accounts are pretty tricky to complete quickly with a hand-held device. Anyone who doesn’t shop regularly probably noticed this past holiday season that a lot more stores required an account be established before allowing a purchase.
Customer accounts are a convenience for stores you do regularly business with. For new sites, it’s an extra step. Bottom line: accounts help prevent fraud and that’s good for merchants and for you if your payment data is used without your knowledge. The extra time is a small trade-off for extra safety online.
Remember: the store can be as safe as possible, but it’s up to you to make sure your smart phones and tablets use security as strong, no stronger, than the security you use on your lap tops and desktop computers.
Note: the author has a background in network and internet security, as well as experience in online financial services for one of the nation’s largest banks.