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How to keep your phone safe while banking

Whether you’re looking to transfer funds or review your monthly spending, chances are you rely a whole lot on your smartphone. There’s been a real shift from physical banking to digital banking lately, and with plenty of online banks and up-and-coming neobanks offering primarily app-based services, this is set to become even more pronounced.

But while banks’ own security measures are pretty reliable, there’s no shortage of shady characters out there looking to rob people of their information and their money. So to help you out, we’ve compiled some tips to keep you safe when banking on your phone.

Refrain from using public networks

Many public spaces, like food courts, cafes and stores offer free Wi-Fi for customers. While this can be convenient, it’s not necessarily the safest place to connect to, especially if you’re planning on moving money around on your phone. 

That’s because public Wi-Fi spots, especially ones without strong security, are vulnerable to a number of attacks. By exploiting weaknesses in security, cybercriminals might be able to intercept and read everything that you do on your phone.

It’s also possible for others to set up rogue Wi-Fi hotspots that resemble familiar ones. Unsuspecting shoppers who connect to these could unwittingly allow cybercriminals to snoop on sites they visit and collect any information they provide online.

Rather than relying on public Wi-Fi, you’re better off using your own cellular network, or only logging into password-protected hotspots that you trust. And if you want to add an extra layer of security, consider using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. This connects you to a remote server, which protects your identity and information from falling into the wrong hands.

Beware of fake texts and emails

Chances are you’ve received a fake message purporting to be from your bank in the past. These are a favourite tactic of scammers, and have fooled plenty of Australians out of their hard-earned cash.

While scammers can do a good job of making messages look real, there will often be tell-tale signs that you’re not dealing with your actual bank — spelling mistakes, unusual grammar, and suspicious looking links are just a few things to keep an eye out for.

In fact, messages containing dodgy links are probably the biggest red flag you’ll encounter. Scammers use these to direct you to phishing websites, where you’ll most likely be asked to provide personal details which they could use to access your bank account.

RELATED: Aussies are losing an average of $12,000 to scams, says Westpac

Most of the time, real messages from banks will merely ask you to log into your app or online banking account without linking to either, but it’s not unusual for some banks to send through a URL in their communications with their customers. You’ll just need to make sure the link is legitimate, such as by checking that it matches your bank’s official website.

Beyond that, another dodgy tactic is making things sound incredibly urgent. If the message you’ve supposedly received from your bank reads like something terrible is about to happen to your money unless you act quick, take it with a grain of salt.

Scammers are banking on recipients seeing these kinds of messages, becoming distressed, and making rash decisions to hand over important information. Keep a clear head instead, and contact your bank to verify the legitimacy of the message.

Ways to protect your privacy

Beyond the most straightforward precautions everyone should be familiar with - e.g. never share your passwords or keep them stored on your phone - there are a few things you can do to make sure your banking details don’t fall into the wrong hands.

1. Sign out of your accounts

It’s always a good idea to sign out of any accounts that contain sensitive information, rather than just closing them. That way if your phone is lost or stolen, anyone who’s gotten a hold of it won’t be able to log in.

2. Be cautious when in public

You should keep your wits about you if you’re doing your banking out in public. Be mindful of your surroundings and make sure no one is snooping over your shoulder when you’re punching in your passwords. It wouldn’t take a stranger too much effort to poach your bank login details if they’re in close enough proximity.

RELATED: Apps on the rise: the future of mobile banking in Australia

3. If you sell your phone, wipe all your data

If you’re planning on selling or getting rid of your phone, it’s a good idea to clear it of all its data. Log out of and delete banking apps, and delete any conversations, images, and contacts that someone could use to commit fraud against you.

4. Don’t jailbreak your phone

Jailbreaking your phone - or modifying it so it runs software that isn’t supported by the manufacturer - can open the door to a whole host of problems. That’s because jailbreaking involves removing your phone’s built-in security features, making it much more vulnerable to attack.

5. Set up biometrics

Biometric authentication is a good way to make sure the only person that uses your phone is you. It does this by scanning your unique physical traits to make sure you are who you say you are. Common types of biometric authentication nowadays are fingerprint scanning and facial recognition.