How to pay safely with your smartphone

I’ve yet to convert to a digital wallet. Have you? If you haven’t, is it because of safety concerns or simply because you don’t know, and therefore trust, how it works? In this blog post I find out about paying with a smartphone and whether I should convert. Will you?

Woman paying at cafe using smartphone app

A survey of US consumers carried out in 2015 by Javelin found that more than half of the respondents would not use their smartphone to pay or are neutral about it. For 42% of the respondents the main issue preventing uptake of the technology was security. Another more recent study carried out by Thales-e-Security found that 72% of consumers in the UK “worry about the risks associated with using contactless payments or when paying for things through their smartphone.” So, it’s good to know I am not alone with my concerns.

According to the Javelin report (pdf), “The smartphone is the Swiss Army knife of modern living”. I like that analogy, but I’m not sure if it makes me feel as secure with my smartphone as I do with my trusty 1980’s-style Swiss Army knife!

How to overcome the smartphone pay safety issues

First of all, I needed to understand how it all works.

At the basic level, I simply have to download a payment app (currently Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay) onto my smartphone and then link my credit or debit card accounts to the payment app.

When I make a payment, the smartphone then connects to the payment register located with the retailer or restaurant, or wherever I’ll be paying, via Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This will allow my phone and the payment terminal to “talk” to each other without using an internet connection.

The hesitancy of consumers to use third party mobile payment apps has led some banks to develop their own payment app technology. Capital One and Barclays are two that have done so already. Other banks provide secure links to the Apple, Samsung and Android apps from their websites.

The payment apps won’t send my actual credit or debit card number with my payment. Instead they use a virtual account number to represent my account information – so my card details should stay safe. My purchases will not be stored on my device or on any Apple/Android servers either. My most recent purchases will be displayed in my Wallet app.

Hand holding a smartphone paying using digital wallet app

Setting up the pay on your device app

To use Android Pay you need to have the app installed, so check if you already have it on your device. If not, go to the Google Play store and search Android Pay (or download via your bank). If you can see it on the Google Play store it means your device is compatible. Then follow the instructions.

To set up Apple Pay on your device, just go to your Wallet App, add your Credit or Debit Card then follow the on-screen instructions. (You’ll need to make sure you’re running the latest iOS).

Using Android Pay

For in store payments under £30, simply wake up your smartphone and hold it near the contactless reader (no need to open the app). Your phone will beep or vibrate, and you’ll receive a confirmation on screen to show your payment was made.

For in app purchases, look for the “Buy with Android Pay” button at checkout. Tap it and follow the prompts to complete your payment.

Payment will always be taken from the default card in your Android Pay wallet.

Using Apple Pay

You can use Apple Pay wherever contactless payments are accepted with an iPhone 6/6+ and later models including the iPhone SE, or Apple Watch. Simply hold your iPhone near the contactless reader with your finger on Touch ID. On Apple Watch, double-click the side button and hold the display of your Apple Watch up to the contactless reader. Different countries have different Apple Pay limits.

Woman showing successful smartphone payment using her digital wallet

What if my smartphone is stolen or lost?

Anyone can lose a phone, or have it stolen, but there are two steps that protect you and your money from the thief getting at your funds:

  1. If you have a digital payment app on your phone you should keep a lock on the phone or use fingerprint ID, either of those will prevent most thieves from accessing your phone.
  2. If you install a digital wallet you should install or set up a ‘Find my Phone’ app so that you can remotely lock the device and disable the digital wallet. If you don’t have that then you have to be prepared to call your bank and ask them to disable it. So, keep your bank’s contact details somewhere separate from your phone.

Am I a convert?

If these two precautions are followed, and I monitor my bank accounts regularly and keep software on my smartphone up to date, I should feel assured that my digital wallet is safe. Am I now going to have a go at using a digital wallet and at last getting rid of all that heavy change in my physical wallet? Yes, I am. Wish me luck!

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