Smartphones have revolutionized the way we communicate and handle basic, everyday tasks. One thing that has made big changes is banking applications.
These days, it’s possible to make a deposit, schedule a transfer of funds or pay bills wherever you happen to be, right from the palm of your hand. But while online banking provides a great deal of convenience, it also creates a great deal of risk. Bank accounts have long been a target of cyber criminals, and now they too are turning to applications — only they are using them to steal money and information. Malicious applications, particularly fake banking apps, are a growing problem, and it’s up to you to keep your devices safe.
Fake Banking Apps on the Rise
Most malicious applications are designed to exploit the data stored on your device for nefarious purposes. Some apps use your contacts to send premium text messages to your contacts, for example, or steal your log-in information for corporate networks or other websites.
Some of the most dangerous apps are those that appear to be a legitimate app, but are actually a fake. For example, Windows phone users were recently duped by applications that appeared to be popular Google services. To the untrained eye, the apps appeared legitimate, but they were fake.
The same principle applies to banking applications, which either looks like a bank’s official application, or do something unrelated to banking — such as a game — while surreptitiously stealing information. Both are dangerous, but some people believe that the “cloned” applications are more devastating because consumers willingly provide information to the hackers. In most cases, these apps look and feel like the official applications of financial institutions. Consumers enter their usernames and passwords and when they cannot access their accounts, they generally have to navigate an escalating series of interactions, which might include text messages and phone calls in which the consumer provides even more information. Meanwhile, the criminals are accessing the real bank account, stealing money and getting out before anyone even notices.
Fortunately, the fake apps are usually discovered and reported quickly, as consumers grow suspicious long before they have provided all of the information the criminals want. However, the malicious apps are still dangerous. One recent malicious app, for example, tricked users into downloading a fake social media app, which then granted the hackers access to everything that happens on the phone. Not only could the hackers could intercept text messages and listen to phone calls, they could steal other information stored on or transmitted by the device — including bank login information.
Avoiding Fake and Malicious Applications
The growing number of fake and malicious apps aimed at stealing banking data might lead you to think that mobile banking isn’t worth the risk, and force you back to the bank to conduct your transactions. However, that’s not always necessary, if you take the right precautions, including:
- Installing an Android security or mobile malware protection program on your mobile devices to block malware and identify viruses.
- Downloading banking apps from official sources. Your best option is to access the app directing from your bank’s website; most banks will send a unique download link via email or text upon request.
- Confirming an application’s authenticity in official app stores. In the case of the fake Google apps, the developer name was a clue that the apps were fake: Real Google apps are offered by “Google Inc.,” while the fakes were offered by “Google, Inc.” A simple comma made all the difference.
- Never paying for a bank app. No reputable bank will charge customers to use mobile banking. An app that charges a fee is almost definitely a fake.
- Not storing your login credentials. If your phone is lost or stolen, or you encounter a malicious application, your bank account will be at risk.
- Only logging on via secure networks. Cyber criminals often monitor public Wi-Fi networks to steal unencrypted data. Even a small-time thief with the right software can view everything you do on public Wi-Fi — and access your login information.
I Downloaded a Fake App — Now What?
Unfortunately, it’s often impossible to determine that you have a fake app until it’s too late. If you determine that your banking app is fake, though:
- Notify your bank of the fake app immediately. Request to have your account numbers changed, and new debit cards issued.
- Sign up for a credit and identity monitoring service to watch for changes on your credit report.
- Change your passwords.
- Set up two-factor authentication where available.
- Monitor your bank statements, and report discrepancies or fraudulent transactions immediately.
Avoiding fake banking apps requires vigilance, but you don’t have to fall victim to criminals who want to steal your money. Learn to spot suspicious apps and take precautions, and you can save your hard-earned money and avoid hassles.
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