How financially smart is your phone?

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The Independent Online

It's the epitome of easy money management, checking your finances while on the move, but where do you start with mobile money services and apps? And how protected are you if your phone gets lost or stolen?

Research by Nationwide shows that people believe online banking makes them more financially savvy: almost 60 per cent of us are more aware of our money and a third are more aware of our household's financial situation thanks to technology. So it's little surprise that connecting anytime, anywhere via phone is becoming a popular way of staying on top of our cash.

Text and emailed financial updates are already commonplace, providing regular mini statements, recent transaction information and "threshold alerts" when customers are running out of funds. But that's small change compared with the world of apps – from full account access, mortgage calculators, and meter readings to currency converters, real-time portfolio values, spread betting tools, and even software for working out how much this year's Christmas shopping will set you back.

Finding them is the tough part, with only a small percentage of the "app universe" regularly tapped. Most users go on the less than exact science of popularity and rankings to pick their mobile tools. By far the most prolific financial apps are budgeting tools, including PocketMoney from Catamount Software at £2.99, or the free lite version for iPhone. Homebudget, Splashmoney, Moneystrands and plenty of others all do similar things, including several that allow you to connect wirelessly with your accounts to make payments and transfers on the move. For Android platforms there's FireWallet and on Blackberry, PageOnce – Money and Bills tracks your accounts, portfolio values and even your Airmiles. Across all three, the free PayPal app allows you to send and receive money, withdraw funds and view historic transactions – even transferring cash by bumping your phone.

Elsewhere, loan tools like Alexander Hall's UK mortgage calculators help assess how much you can borrow, what your payments will be and compare re-mortgage options. Mysupermarket and a range of comparison shopping tools can help work out the best grocery deals. Debt Snowball is the well-known app that has become a debt repayment strategy in itself and the range of investment planning and monitoring tools such as PortfolioLive is growing by the day.

But Graham Cluley, a consultant for IT security company Sophos, warns that pressure to make life easy is opening doors for fraudsters. "People must ensure the apps they download are legitimate – originating from their bank rather than a kid sitting at a computer in their bedroom. On the Android platform, for example, there have been cases of apps set up to steal information from the user's phone.

"It's not as easy to detect typical phishing activity via your mobile, such as checking the origin of websites using the URL, as they may not be displayed. And be careful about requesting security details via text. If your mobile is lost or stolen, all the details are there.

"There is always a battle between functionality and security and consumer pressure is always to make things easier to use than more secure."

Cluley suggests installing an app that will help find your device, as well as apps or services through your provider that allow you to wipe the hard drive or lock your mobile remotely if it is lost or stolen.

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