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Mobile banking foils theft

By Claes Bell ·
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Posted: 12 pm ET

Batman has his batarang, Dirty Harry his .44 magnum and Brooklynite Dina Wohlhendler has her … mobile banking text alerts?

It may not be as cool as a batarang, but in this case, mobile banking saved the day.

It may not be quite as cool as a batarang, but in this case, mobile banking saved the day. (Photo: Christine Westerback)

In what might be the first case of mobile-banking vigilantism, Wohlhendler was shopping in Manhattan when she noticed her wallet was missing from her purse. Then, text alerts from her bank started hitting her phone, letting her know that someone was racking up sizable purchases at nearby retailers on her debit card.

Using the bank notifications and a little bit of intuition, she tracked the alleged thief to a Best Buy in midtown. From Sandy Eller at Vos Iz Neias:

Going back out onto 5th Avenue, Mrs. Wohlhendler began walking uptown hoping to somehow spot the thief on her own, when she noticed a Best Buy located one block to the north. Acting on instinct, she entered the store where she observed a woman, holding an Urban Outfitters bag, purchasing a cellphone. Coming closer to the shopper, she noticed the name on the credit card being offered to the cashier was none other than her own.

"I started yelling at her," said Mrs. Wohlhendler. "At first she denied that the card was mine, but then she started yelling at me. She started running away towards the back of the store, but I ran after her, calling for security. She started throwing the merchandise from Urban Outfitters at me, then some cash, then my wallet, screaming 'Here is your stuff back, it is just a mix-up.'"

Best Buy security detained the woman and insisted that the pair wait for police to clarify the matter.

A lot of people worry about the security of mobile banking, but this incident makes a strong case for mobile banking as a security-enhancing feature. While you probably won't end up using it to dramatically foil a thief, mobile banking can help you keep tabs on your account so you can report suspicious activity to your bank quickly.

That's the key, because consumer protection laws shift more liability to the customer as time goes on. The more time that elapses between when the crime occurs and when you report it, the more you'll likely end up having to pay.

What do you think? Would you have tried to track down and confront the thief? Can mobile banking help stop crime?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

(Hat tip to the Consumerist.)

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August 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Well, unless I'm mistaken, text alerts are usually pretty basic, as in "You've had more than $500 of charges hit your account today," they don't say anything about location. For that, you'd have to log into your banking app, and depending on the level of detail, it could tell you, "Pending charge: 11:42 A.M., Best Buy 10013." That IS a case for mobile banking.

Claes Bell
August 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Text alerts are widely considered a part of mobile banking. A mobile banking apps could easily have helped her track purchases in the same way. Agreed that text alerts don't have the same security issues as, say, mobile banking through a smartphone browser. But my point was they can help you keep tabs on your account and keep an eye out for fraud.

August 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

This makes a case to text alerts from your bank. It DOES NOT make a case for mobile banking. The to are UNRELATED features. NONE of the security concerns of mobile banking apply to text alerts.