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Mobile banking popularity puts smart phones at risk for theft

Experts say added security features protect banking information

(istock)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Cell phone theft is becoming the number one crime trend in the United States. In fact, 40 percent of robberies in major cities now involve cell phones.

In Washington, DC alone, cell phone-related crime is up 54 percent since 2007.

What makes this so disturbing is the fact that it's not just the phone that's stolen.

That device can be a key to all sorts of personal information. Like many people April Tucker has lost her phone a time or two.

"I have lost it traveling. I have put it down," said Tucker.

That's what makes Tucker so nervous about the concept of mobile banking.

"Just having it on your phone is just an additional way for someone to hack into your information," said Tucker.

A recent experiment gives her all the more reason to be concerned. The computer software company Symantec intentionally lost 50 phones in four major cities around the U.S.: New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, just to see what would happen when they were found. Special software was installed to track the phones and what people did with them. The software monitored what apps the finders attempted to open, what websites they attempted to access, and where they took the phone physically.

In half of the cases, the finder tried to return the cell, but not before they did a little snooping.

"People looked at private pictures. They tried to access a banking account by logging into a person's bank," said Kevin Haley of Symantec.

Forty-three percent actually tried to access banking apps.

Fifty-seven percent went into a saved password file.

Sixty-six percent of the devices showed attempts to click through the login or password reset screens.

And of the 50 devices, the owners only received 25 offers to help, despite the fact that the owner's phone numbers and email addresses were clearly marked in the contacts app.

Still, Doug Johnson, with the American Bankers Association's risk management unit says with proper steps, it's safe to bank on a smart phone.

Just protect it.

Beyond an access pass code, users should create a different password for each mobile account that's tied to your money.

And never use the "remember this password" option when it appears.

"It kind of defeats the purpose of the password," explained Johnson.

There are a lot of new special software and apps to protect you if your phone goes missing.

"There's also some other great technology out there that would let you remotely wipe all your personal information and business information off that phone," said Haley.

There's even a feature called scream.

"The scream feature is going to make your phone let out a loud noise, a scream, so you can identify where you've left it," said Haley.

Or scare a thief into dumping it.

Perhaps the best advice is the same as when you lose a credit card.

"You misplaced your phone, you believe you haven't taken proper measures, contact your financial institution," said Johnson.

As for that stolen cell phone database, it will be up and operational within the year.

Once a phone is listed as stolen or lost all voicemail and data access is disconnected making the phone useless to anyone who finds or tries to sell it.