Mobile bank apps convenient for users, but can be vulnerable to hackers

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mobile banking is an increasingly popular way to manage finances and deposit checks during the COVID-19 pandemic, but thieves can use them to target you.

The FBI and other security experts said they've seen a 50% increase in mobile banking in 2020, which is also creating a surge in scams and attempts by hackers to access accounts.

The FBI said there are now two risks targeting your bank account: phony banking apps designed to look like your real bank, and "Trojan apps" which are secretly reading and storing your account information as you enter it into your bank app.

The red flags can be easy to miss.

"The criminals have gotten really good at making these look very official, very slick, very well defined," said Alex Hamerstone of security company TrustedSec. "It might even be a very fun game. But things often times might be simpler, a calculator app or a flashlight app that is pretty easy to code."

Hamsterstone said those fake flashlight or calculator apps can constantly run on your phone, and when you log into your banking app the Trojan app steals your account information.

You can potentially avoid Trojan apps by researching them first and downloading directly from official app stores. Avoid getting apps from random online searches or links you get in an email.

"In general you are going to be in much better shape if you are limiting yourself to the Google and Apple stores," Hamerstone explained. "You are not 100%, nothing is 100%, but you are going to be in a much better position and safer."

To steer clear of other fake app posing as your bank, make sure you go directly to your bank's official website and get the app from them. Also set up text and email alerts in case you become a victim of fraud.

"It really does come down to prevention, but also reaction and kind of monitoring. So if you do everything you can to prevent these bad apps, if you kind of monitor your account, and then if something does happen you react to it so you notify the bank," Hamsertone said.

He also said it's important to have strong, unique passwords and set up two-factor authentication in your account.

The FBI said a 2018 report found 65,000 fake apps, so it's important to research apps online before downloading. Never download apps sent in phishing emails.
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