Commentary: Don't carry your bank cards with your mobile phone
A near-miss with a robber prompts Financial Times' Claer Barrett to rethink the way she manages her finances, cards and accounts.
LONDON: I don’t have many financial bad habits. But it’s mea culpa time. For a few years now, I have been doing something extraordinarily risky. I have carried my bank cards inside my mobile phone case.
I realised how stupid this was one night last week. I didn’t step off the train home until nearly 8.30pm. Only a few passengers got off.
The coffee shop at the station was long closed and the street was fairly deserted. But I wasn’t paying much attention — I was walking along the pavement looking at Twitter on my phone.
I was vaguely aware of a bicycle going past me towards commuters on the other side of the road. I nearly dropped my mobile when I heard a woman yell: “No! He’s got my phone!”
The hoodie-wearing cyclist had approached silently from behind and simply plucked the phone from her hands. Pursuit would have been futile — her assailant pedalled off into a nearby park and was instantly lost from view.
People who had been smoking outside a nearby pub came forward to make sure she was okay. She was unhurt — but shaken up and very angry.
Using bikes or mopeds to steal phones is a fast-growing crime. The London Metropolitan Police says this kind of theft is most common between the hours of 6pm to 10pm, particularly around train and Underground stations.
I had been so glued to my own phone that I didn’t even notice whether the cyclist was male or female. So, having put it firmly in my pocket, I walked home feeling very sorry for the victim — and with a guilty sense of relief that the thief hadn’t picked on me as they would also have swiped four of my bank cards.
So why did I keep them in my phone case? I ditched my wallet a few years ago when contactless card payments became mainstream. I rarely use cash. You can pay on plastic for a sandwich in Waitrose (essential egg mayo, if you’re wondering).
I carry around a tiny coin purse to buy magazines and give money to buskers, and I have a note in the back flap of my diary in case the Visa network ever goes down again.
I use my main UK bank card for contactless fares on public transport. I also have a department store John Lewis Partnership Card, which I use to buy egg sandwiches and other things in supermarket chain Waitrose (as you get double points).
Why I was even carrying my credit card, I don’t know. I also have a mobile banking Monzo card, but I only ever use that when I go abroad on holiday. So the last two have been reunited with my old wallet, which now lives in a drawer.
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CAN MOBILE PHONE PAYMENTS BE SAFER?
After a contactless card is stolen, you would be advised to check statements carefully for any suspect low-value transactions, then alert your bank and request that these are refunded.
The UK Financial Conduct Authority says “almost all” contactless payments are now online. A notable exception is journeys on public transport. Another example would be using contactless cards to pay for in-flight services, such as extortionately expensive airline coffee.
Authorities at Transport for London tell me that although contactless payments are offline, its system regularly checks in with providers to see if cards are valid. If not, it blacklists them.
This is all reassuring — but I now realise I would have greater control if I moved away from physical cards and switched to mobile phone payments.
I know this might sound illogical. If my phone is stolen, then so is the payments data within it. Crucially, though, it is protected by fingerprint ID and a passcode. I can store all of my cards, without the need to carry them.
This also means I can select certain cards to get points, and payments on a mobile can be made.
I will be taking better care when walking home in future. But if my phone were stolen, all I’d need to do to disable mobile payments completely is log in remotely to Apple’s Find My iPhone service and activate “lost mode”.
I would still have the headache and expense of replacing my phone, but I’d be able to use my old-fashioned bank cards nestling at home in the drawer.
I’ve also taken two further precautions: Noting my phone’s unique IMEI number (dial *#06# to find out what yours is) and investing in a seriously powerful portable phone charger as the biggest problem I foresee with mobile payments is your battery running flat.