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Breaches of Mobile-Banking Apps — What can you do?


American banks maintain many levels of protection against fraud. Institutions accurately and quickly can detect suspicious account activity, credit-card charges and funds transfers. But it seems the sophisticated software used to counter such crimes is not enough.

Hackers have found a way to plunder one’s finances through those highly touted and much-downloaded mobile-banking apps. The apps, which let consumers do on their smartphones everything they can do on their computers with regard to their bank accounts – plus added features, including depositing a check by taking a photo of it – are leaving them potentially vulnerable to the digital underworld. And it raises the question of who is liable if a heist occurs.

Computer hacker silhouette of hooded man with binary data and network security terms

Of the 781 data breaches recorded in the United States in 2015, over nine percent of them – 71 in all – targeted the banking sector, according to a report by the Identity Theft Resource Center titled “Identity Theft Resource Center Breach Report Hits Near Record High in 2015.” The previous year’s number of banking hacks numbered 38.

Eva Velasquez, the center’s president and CEO, said the fact that “the overwhelmingly prevalent motive for data breaches remains financial gain” translates into a need for consumers to contemplate the critical nature of their personal information, and take a proactive approach to keep the information private, even if means they might have to “potentially cease capturing or creating.”

Added Adam Levin, of IDT911, sponsor of the report:

“These numbers are by no means the whole story, as breaches have become the third certainty in life. Since 2005, ITRC has tracked 5,810 reported breaches. Many continue to fly under the radar because many businesses aim to avoid the financial dislocation, liability, and loss of goodwill that comes with disclosure and notification. It is safe to assume that the actual number of breaches is much higher than what is reported.”

More than half of all smartphone users with a bank account have downloaded a mobile-banking app, states the Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2016 report issued by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

“I know almost no one who has security software on their phone,” Mike Murray, of the specialty security firm Lookout, told NBC News.

Three actions consumers can take to keep their dollars and cents safe and sound include:

  • Ensuring you have the most up-to-date version of said app, with the most up-to-date operating system for your smartphone;
  • Downloading an anti-virus app on your smartphone;
  • Asking your bank to alert you whenever a transaction is completed.

“You can get a text, an email every time there is a charge, withdrawal, deposit – these are all options,” Robert Siciliano, an expert on personal security and identity theft, told NBC News. “I think that is such a great thing so you can know if something is happening in real time.”

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