A reader: I use tablets and smartphones to play games, pay bills and just about anything you can think of online. I am constantly getting automatic requests to download free apps. How do I know if they are safe?
Action Line: Smartphone and tablet purchases continue to rise. The mobile apps make it even easier to use the smart devices. You can get apps to plan a trip, play games, check your bank account balance, buy new shoes and on and on and on.
Safety becomes the issue. The first thing you should know is mobile apps do not properly encrypt information, which means online banking or purchases are not a good idea when you are on a public Wi-Fi. If you plan to use a mobile app for banking, you should use a secure wireless network or your phone’s data network. This should help reduce your risk of having your private information intercepted by the wrong parties.
Make sure your devices are password protected. If you lose your phone or tablet and it is not password protected, anyone who finds your device can pick it up and log in to your banking app. You can also install a remote wiping application that allows you to erase your phone’s data even if you no longer have the device.
You may also want to check with your bank to see if there is a longer hold time on deposits if they are done with the mobile app. Often, banks will protect themselves against fraud by delaying fund availability on apps as compared to ATM deposits.
Mobile apps are not always free. Many are fee based, even if they say they are free. If you go to your favorite apps store, these apps are normally vetted and checked for viruses and malware. But that is not always a given. Be sure to watch out for ads in mobile apps. One of these ads could contain security threats. A streaming ad could possibly link to a malicious site or deliver malware to your mobile device. If you use one of these, the app creator can easily access your banking information, hence, your money. You can avoid this by downloading your app directly from your bank’s website or only other reputable app stores.
When you download an app, make sure you pay attention to the permissions requests. You may see requests to access your contact list or emails. Ask yourself, do I really want anyone else to have access to those lists? You may also be asked for your geographic location.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.