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People are increasingly shifting financial activity to their mobile phones, whether it’s shopping, using budgeting apps or managing bank accounts. But the increased popularity of mobile banking hasn’t assuaged concerns about security, especially in this age of frequent data breaches.

The vast majority (87%) of adults in the U.S. have cellphones, and 33% of them used mobile banking in the past 12 months, up from 28% a year ago. And of those mobile phone users who haven’t yet tried it out, 12% said they will probably use mobile banking services in the next year, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.

Defining Mobile Banking

In the report, mobile banking is described as “using a mobile phone to access your bank or credit union account.” That can take several forms, including using an official bank app, logging into the bank website using your mobile phone’s Web browser or sending or receiving updates by text message.

Mobile payments, on the other hand, are not limited to bank account activity; they involve making purchases, donations, deposits, transfers — anything involving an exchange of money using the mobile phone. Only 17% of cellphone users reported using mobile payments in the past 12 months, up from 15% in 2012.

Security Concerns

Apps, browsers, text messages — there are a lot of ways to use mobile banking, and it can be very help you to avoid overspending. Checking balances is the most common use of mobile banking, with 97% of people using mobile banking services to do so.

But few people have much faith in the safety of these options. Mobile banking users understandably have more confidence in the security of their financial information entered on mobile devices, but even 4% of that group said they think mobile banking is very unsafe, according to a Fed survey. A quarter of mobile phone users say it’s very unsafe.

The majority of mobile banking users (56%) say it’s somewhat safe. When you open up the question to all mobile phone users, that confidence drops to 30%, and 27% said it was somewhat unsafe. Very few people had a firm stance on the matter, showing that work needs to be done to assure consumers if the industry is to continue growing.

Considering how much information our cellphones hold about us, it’s always a good idea to secure your phone with a password, even security software. This is especially important if you’re accessing financial services on your phone.

It helps to add another layer of protection: Logging into the app for your bank or credit union.

“It’s always advisable to use a bank app rather than going through a browser,” said Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. “Banking apps tend to be generally more secure.” Levin noted it’s easy to mistype the URL in the browser and end up on a clone site, which is designed to pilfer account credentials from unsuspecting customers.

But even using banking app presents risks — if you save your username or password, and someone gets into your phone, they could be a click away from your bank account. Not ideal.

Even if you’re taking the appropriate measures to protect yourself from fraudsters, it helps to make a habit of checking your account balances daily, so you can quickly spot and address abuse.  Checking your credit (including your credit scores, which you can do for free through Credit.com) should also be a part of your regular financial activity to look for signs of identity theft — such as unauthorized credit accounts and unexpected drops in your scores.

More on Identity Theft:

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